An Eco-cation: Stone Barns Center for Agriculture and Food

Jack in greenhouse at Stone Barns

Harvest Day, Pocantico Hills, NY— On an early Friday morning in April, the farm is waking in intervals of snorts, squawks, chirps, gobbles, and baaahs. Inside the greenhouse, before the pruning farmhands arrive, sprinklers are pshhing over rows of lettuce, parsnips, carrots, rhubarb, and spinach. Situated on 80 acres of well-toiled land, Stone Barns Center for Agriculture and Food might at first sport all the characteristics of any other farm, but it hardly is.

“We’re trying to catalyze the different connections and interactions with the community, schools, and with the gardening public,” says Jack Algiere, the Center’s four season grower. Lily, his border collie, sits nearby with a recently fetched stick in her mouth while Jack explains how the farm is involved in ecologically sound practices. “Six acres of veggies and a half acre of greenhouse is really a pretty small farm. Yet this place is a lot more efficient, produces food for thousands in a single day. The problem with big farms is that they start to forget about the individual’s relationship to the earth, which is what makes us different.”

Volunteering at Stone BarnsGoogling Stone Barns Center turns up about 339,000 results (including NYTimes reviews, The Martha Blog, and countless charity forums) and yet there’s no evidence of pretension, no unsavory smells of success—or manure, surprisingly—on the farm. The staff pockets the local fame and countrywide recognition while maintaining focus on the big tasks at hand, like enrolling more children into Farm Camp, bringing more curious couples to the free workshops like “Reading Between the Lines Book Discussion Group: New York City’s Place in the Food Chain,” or putting people to work tending to the livestock or uprooting beds in the greenhouse. “We’re trying to nurture the next generation of farmers,” said Rebecca Sherman, marketing and communications manager of the center. “Or at least create advocates of healthy food and farming.”

While visitors are welcome to roam the beautiful grounds—spying on sheep and squealing piglets—free of charge, the best way to appreciate and learn from the center is to get a little dirty. Spend a day volunteering (whether as a tour guide, a composter, or assistant in the education program) then end the eight gratifying hours with a gourmet meal ($95 five-course tasting) at Blue Hill, the property’s prized farm-to-table restaurant and the locavore’s delight.

Pigs at Stone BarnsFor those in search of a fun, educational, and memorable family activity or a quick urban escape with all the trappings of a romantic, bucolic setting, Stone Barns really does have it all—Matzos-munching boars, a stable of pregnant sheep, eggs for children to collect from the coop, and countless dirt paths through 1,233 acres of Rockefeller State Park. To take full advantage of the peaceful, picnic-friendly environment, stop by the Blue Hill Café for homemade jams, scones, and sandwiches, or starting May 2, schedule a trip on Wednesdays, Fridays or Sundays for the farmer’s market that sells produce, eggs, and meat.

Here, you never feel guilty for having bought processed instead of organic at the grocery store. But the experience itself of exploring the land and eating its food is a reminder of the ethos centered on being good consumers. “We may need huge farms now because we don’t have enough social responsibility to protect the small farms,” said Algiere, as a laborer plucks carrots to his right. “But it doesn’t mean we can’t reinvigorate this thing that’s already happening. Five years ago I wanted to come here to break new ground, use this place as a megaphone to reach a lot of people. And we’re a voice for those farms that work really hard, but can’t be heard.”

This Earth Weekend, there are dozens of activities planned at Stone Barns Center from planting seeds to helping power the farm by making bio-diesel. Check the calendar for more details and ways you can put that green thumb to good use.

How to get there from NYC

Take the Metro North Hudson line to Tarrytown. For scheduling and additional train information, visit Taxis should be available at the station, which is a quick ride away from the center. (Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, 630 Bedford Road, Pocantico Hills, Westchester, NY, 914.366.620,