Living where I do, in New York’s Hudson Valley, I find that my locovore, foodie, and travel interests become intertwined, especially when I’m confined to traveling at home. I never thought I’d be into agritourism (I have enough trouble getting my own tomatoes weeded, thanks), but exploring my adopted home is opening my eyes to the attractions of traveling to the farm.
This is largely, I think, because the locovore and Slow Food movements have integrated within them the concept of story: the stories and the people and the places behind the food we eat. A loaf of bread might include not only the ingredients, but a short history of the idealistic baker whose dream was realized in this fresh, locally produced loaf. Buying produce at a farmer’s market often means an in-depth conversation with the farmer about the dirt that makes her tomatoes so darn tasty. And a hunk of cheese might be named after the cow its milk comes from.
At least, that’s the case with Sprout Creek Farm, Hudson Valley home of fine cheeses, a kitchen classroom, and lots and lots of really happy cows, goats, and pigs. (Not that they produce any pig cheese, but the pigs are there snorting and snoozing in the sun.)
We’ve been buying Sprout Creek’s cheese from our local grocery store, co-op, and through an organic farmstand for several years, but even though I checked out their website over a year ago we never managed to make it across the Hudson River and up towards Poughkeepsie. (Okay, it’s less than an hour’s drive, but if traveling doesn’t involve at least a 6-hour flight, I can be damned lazy.)
Autumn in the Hudson Valley is almost disgustingly pretty — the leaves, the cool, not-quite-sharp weather, the lingering light over tan fields of mown hay and corn stands. It’s perfect for driving. I might be all for public transport and wish I never had to own a car, but autumn-perfect days call for country rambles in your own auto. So we went.
Sprout Creek produces both grass-fed cow and goat cheeses, from the sharp Touissant to creamy Brie-like Rita (yes, from Rita the cow), on a 200-acre working farm in Dutchess County, New York. It started, we were told, not by a passion for fantastic cheese, but as a working teaching farm. Although its cheeses are getting wider notice and distribution, the farm’s focus is still on its educational programs. And you’re not talking one harvest festival for the kids per year. The farm is host to some 5,000 schoolchildren every summer, with high school kids getting a residential agricultural experience and day programs for younger kids.
I love places like this, and the services they provide to children, even if I don’t necessarily need it for my own son (we’ve got itinerant goats who give more than enough trouble). It’s just as crucial for kids to have an understanding of where their food comes from, as it is for them to touch other cultures in the big, wide world out there.
You don’t have to be a resident schoolkid to appreciate the farm, though. Any visitors are welcome to visit the animals. People separated from the goats and cows and pigs only by unobtrusive fences. Various signs around the property give information about flora, fauna, and the harmonizing layout of the farm.
Sprout Creek also has a weekend rental cabin for your normal adults wanting to escape the city for a few days. The farm is one of those peaceful, pastoral places. Well off of any many roads, it’s quiet day and night and offers rolling views over fields and herds so placid you almost wonder if you’ve wandered onto a period movie set.
But mostly there’s the cheese. The market offers a cheese-tasting counter where you can try pretty much anything the farm is currently making, including some experiments and several that my local stores weren’t carrying. We went home with Lizzy, a sharp hard goat’s cheese, and Eden, a more buttery aged cow’s cheese. Plus a hunk of smoked Ouray. We would have gone home with a lot more if we could have eaten it.
With the knowledgable staff giving us directions to the best lunch places nearby, and their invitation to bring a lunch next time — although the farm lacks a cafe, picnic tables on the grounds offer an awfully nice place for an outdoor snack, great for a toddler to roam around between bites — we knew we’d be back for frequent visits.
There’s a reason agritourism is becoming increasingly popular worldwide. Places such as Sprout Creek offer an escape, an educational visit, reconnection with nature, and good food all on one beautiful piece of property. Whether you live in a city or in the country, I recommend you look for similar places for a day’s outing — and share your finds with the rest of us!