POCANTICO HILLS, N.Y. - Agriculture tourism lures travellers each fall with farms offering petting zoos, dressed-up scarecrows, pick-your-own pumpkins and pony rides. But Stone Barns, in New York's Hudson Valley, offers a different type of agritourism.
Stone Barns is a real working farm, but it's dedicated to education and sustainable agriculture. You don't come here to buy pellets from a coin-operated machine to feed baby goats. Instead, you come to see free-range turkeys and chickens, colorful gardens bursting with flowers and herbs, a year-round greenhouse, and a barn full of oinking piglets. There are fields of vegetables grown without synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, quiet wooded paths, a mountain of compost and a buzzing apiary.
Located about an hour north of New York City in Pocantico Hills, Stone Barns was built in the 1930s as a dairy farm by John D. Rockefeller Jr. The Rockefellers' 40-room mansion and estate, Kykuit, is located nearby. Ten years ago, the farm was turned into an education site by John's son David Rockefeller and David's daughter Peggy Dulany in honour of David's late wife Peggy, who was an advocate for farmland preservation.
Farming practices here include crop rotation, composting and other methods designed to improve nutrition, enrich soil and reduce energy consumption. Some 200 varieties of produce are grown in fields, gardens and greenhouses, along with eggs, meat and honey.
Stone Barns offers a variety of educational programs to the public, including some designed for children, but it's also open Wednesday to Sunday year-round to the public. A self-guided tour of the entire property — 23 acres of pasture and 40 acres of woodlands — takes several hours. A free iPhone app and free maps from the gift shop can help guide your way. On weekends, interpretive stations are set up. Events include an upcoming harvest festival, Oct. 5.
Stone Barns relies on philanthropic funding but also earns income from its products, some of which are sold in the gift shop and in farmers markets. In addition, the farm has a unique commercial partnership with chef Dan Barber, who operates two fancy restaurants, Blue Hill in Manhattan and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. The Stone Barns restaurant offers a chef's menu that's $198 a person, excluding tax, tip and drinks. Reservations are accepted two months in advance and despite the price, the meals are so prized among foodies that they fill up. A smaller three-course menu at the bar is $58 (not including tax, tip or drinks; no reservations). Barber's recent book "The Third Plate" is about the farm-to-table philosophy that connects Stone Barns with his restaurants.
But don't fret if the Blue Hill menu is beyond your budget. You can get an affordable taste of Stone Barns' farm-fresh flavours at its onsite Grain Bar, which sells salads, frittatas, sandwiches and sweets. It's the perfect spot for lunch or a snack after you've built up a farm-sized appetite visiting the pigs and the fields.
If You Go...
STONE BARNS: Located in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., about an hour's drive north of New York City. Open Wednesday-Sunday year-round, with a $10 admission fee per car Friday-Sunday; http://www.stonebarnscenter.org/. Harvest festival fundraiser, Oct. 5, adults, $40, children 2-14, $20. By train from Manhattan , MetroNorth to Tarrytown station, then a 10-minute cab ride to Stone Barns.