NGI Instructor Jay Weinstein is a food writer, editor, culinary instructor, and cookbook author. His food articles and recipes have been featured in The New York Times, Travel & Leisure, Newsday, Time Out New York, National Geographic Traveler, and numerous other publications. Jay’s latest book, The Ethical Gourmet (Random House/Broadway Books), focuses on ecologically sustainable fine foods. He is also author of The Everything Vegetarian Cookbook (Adams), and A Cup of Comfort Cookbook (Adams). He is a veteran of some of America’s top restaurant kitchens, including New York’s Le Bernardin and Orso, and Boston’s Jasper’s and The Four Seasons Hotel.
Eggs are warm when you collect them from the nest. Piglets have personalities. Chickens kick a lot after their throats are slit. Maple syrup is darker at the end of the season (grade “B”) because it has to be concentrated more to achieve equal sweetness to early season syrup (grade “A”).
These nuggets of farm life are among the many I gleaned from a weekend touring small and mid-size farms in upstate New York in October. Jen Small and Mike Yezzi of Flying Pigs Farm in Shushan, New York hosted nineteen food professionals, journalists, and nonprofit food system advocates to offer exposure to things that non-farmers might not know. And what an exposure it was.
Within hours of arrival at the farm, an hour north of Albany, three miles from the Vermont border, I had held a live chicken for the first time, collected the aforementioned eggs, and held down a piglet as Mike castrated it (an important part of ensuring domestic tranquility in the barn, and developing marketable meat – the little fellow was playing minutes later with his brothers and sisters as if nothing had happened).
Jen and Mike took us to two types of dairy farm – a Confined Animal Feeding Operation (CAFO), and a pasture-raised dairy. We saw cheese being made, and talked maple syrup in a sun-bleached sugar shack. Along the way, we heard about the realities, good and bad, of agriculture in New York State. We learned how land was being converted from farm use to residential development. We came to know the importance of fruit and dairy production to New York’s economy. And we sampled some of the freshest food I’ve ever tasted. Even the egg whites had flavor.