ESSEX — Taste-testing and berry picking were part of an age-old connection made new with fresh interest at Essex Farm.
Dave Hunt, executive chef at Generations, the Golden Arrow’s anchor restaurant in Lake Placid, has organized a series of local farm tours this summer, hoping to generate questions, wonder and renewed focus on what is important about buying locally grown, prepared and raised food.
“I would like to promote farming as a sustainable business,” Hunt said of the industry that in every way supports his creativity in the kitchen. “And we believe community-supported agriculture is a part of that. Our focus is on supporting local farms, which creates jobs, builds the economy and ensures that money spent to buy food stays here.”
At his latest event, he catered a fresh-food picnic, complete with white tablecloths, at Essex Farm, where farmer Mark Kimball — founder of the Community-Supported Agriculture Co-operative here — gave about 22 guests a walking, hands-on explanation of their operation.
“This is a special place,” Hunt said of the sprawling 600-acre farm. “I want more people to experience it.”
Kimball’s farm doesn’t sell directly to restaurants, reserving its harvest for farm-share members.
“But it’s not lost on us that people like Dave are bringing what we have to offer to light,” he said, wearing a wide straw hat tied under his chin.
Essex Farm hosts four farm tours a year, events usually reserved for potential CSA farm members.
A CSA is a farm operation where community members buy in for “shares” of seasonal harvest. At Essex Farm, that purchase is around $6,200 for a family of two, year round, which guarantees fresh and cellar-stored (in winter) vegetables; meats, including chicken, beef and pork; maple syrup; herbs; fruit; fresh flowers; eggs; milk and milk products.
“It’s sort of like a country club with a trailer park thrown in,” Kimball said by way of introducing the farm pavilion bordered with freezer trailers put to re-use as storage and work areas.
“It’s take what you want, all-you-can-eat. Our goal is to create a homestead environment. And I am as addicted as anyone to farming. I absolutely love the challenge,” he said.
“We are a full-food, free-choice, year-round, horse-powered, membership farm. We accept new customers all year long.”
Essex Farm currently feeds more than 200 members.
Kimball discussed ways they meet farm needs for energy through sunlight, walking the curious crowd toward the farm’s solar-panel array.
“We need to expand beyond the fossil-fuel era — sunlight is the source, and soil is genius.”
While he shuffled guests down trodden farm paths, Hunt finished picnic preparations — sort of a farmhand version of the storied Adirondack guide/cook.
Flames in a wood-fired brick stove made ready for homemade pizza with fresh tomato, cheese and basil topping.
A bowl of a succulent relish that Hunt invented and named Adirondack Kim-Chee chilled on ice. It’s a snappy blend of pac choy (a Chinese cabbage), carrot coins, sweet onion, fresh ginger and other spices. He kept the fresh mozzarella and cheeses from Clover Mead and Asgaard Farm and Dairy chilled in the refrigerated trailer on shelves beside Essex Farm’s whole milk. A warm roast side of beef simmered in its chafing dish.
ALL LOCAL FOODS
The meal pulled together ingredients from other Adirondack farms with local flour, wines, fresh bison meat and vegetables in season.
Hunt readied for his guests with the same kind of anticipation a kid has in a candy store, minus processed anything.
“In a philosophical sense,” he said, “preparing meals with local food makes you feel good.”
Last year, he said, Generati
ons, his restaurant in Lake Placid, bought $25,000 worth of fresh meat from local farms.
“I would like to buy $100,000 worth of local meat. But even the $25,000 we spent generated $80,000 worth of sales.
“And the food is awesome,” the chef said, smiling.
“It has helped create a niche for our restaurant.”
Email Kim Smith Dedam:
IF YOU GO
Chef Dave Hunt has another extended weekend of farm picnic tours coming in September.
Sept. 7 to 9 this year, he is organizing visits to Tucker Farms in Gabriels, Fledgling Crow in Keeseville, Clover Mead in Port Kent, and Windy Mountain Farm in Lake Placid and Bloomingdale.
The Farm Tour weekend is supported by Generations and its anchor hotel, the Golden Arrow Resort in Lake Placid.
Call Generations for reservations at 837-5052 or Golden Arrow for weekend special room/tour packages:
Hunt said the tours do not have a guest limit and if numbers are too large, they will schedule several different trips.
For more information about Essex Farm’s CSA shares, contact Kimball at 963-4613.