Eight Maids A-Milking
by: Elsa Eckhardt
“Hey, Julia,” Elsa inquired. “What do you want to cook for dinner tonight?” This is a weekly question we ask each other on Sunday afternoons, as that is our assigned cooking day.
Here at Arcadia, an important aspect of our experience is learning how to cook in a large-group setting. Without a dining hall at our constant disposal, we have learned to get crafty in the kitchen. Students were paired off at the start of the semester and assigned a cooking day when they are required to make dinner between 4:30 and 6:30 p.m. and breakfast before class the next morning.
“How about roasted chicken and some local veggies?” responded Julia.
“Oh, yeah, “ Elsa replied. “Awesome idea! We have chicken from Reber Rock Farm in the fridge.
As we began our meal prep, we thought back to the whirlwind weekend we had just experienced that consisted of a farm tour through Essex County, New York. Just that morning we had been at the farms where a significant portion of our food comes from. Our escapade began bright and early on Saturday morning when we visited Sugar House Creamery in Upper Jay, New York, followed by a tour of Mace Chasm Farm, then a walk around North Country Creamery where we spent the night. The next morning we went to Reber Rock Farm to pick up chickens for the upcoming family dinner on Friday.
“How about the sausage we bought from Mace Chasm Farm, too?” Julia suggested.
“Now we’re on to something!” Elsa decided. “We can make a salad and roast some potatoes. We can finish it off by making a lemon sponge cake.” As we dressed up the chicken with some spices, we thought back to that morning. Although we weren’t able to slaughter the chickens—an Adirondack Semester tradition—we were able to walk around Reber Rock Farm and learn about their operation. Looking at the High Peaks of the Adirondacks, we thought of how lucky we are to eat food grown locally and ethically. As the sausages sizzled in the cast iron pan, we also remembered Asa, the owner of Mace Chasm Farm who led us around the pastures where he grazes his livestock. At Mace Chasm, they raise livestock that is butchered on-site by Asa, who told us that he spends much of his time moving fences around and distributing animal feces in order to enrich the soil. He went on to explain that, contrary to popular belief, not all meat production is detrimental to the environment. At Mace Chasm, carbon is put back into the soil instead of being cast into the atmosphere like it is at most industrial meat facilities. This fertilizes the soil and causes the grass to grow better the next year.
Once dinner was in the oven, we started crafting our dessert. We took our well-worn copy of Joy of Cooking off the shelf and read the list of ingredients required for lemon sponge cake. When we came across “whole milk,” we decided that the raw milk from Sugar House Creamery would enhance the flavor of our decadent treat. As we measured out two cups of milk, we reminisced about our experience at Sugar House Creamery. We began our tour with Margot, one of the owners, who led us into their milking barn where they milk their eleven Brown Swiss cows twice a day. We got to peek into their cheese-making room, which was just off the milking quarters. Margot explained that all of their machinery was imported from European countries such as France and Holland where raw milk and cheese is more common. We learned that the United States has many regulations on raw milk production, and in New York State farmers can only sell raw milk products at their farms. We then visited the four-day-old calf in the nearby stable and cooed at its cuteness. We also paid a visit to the milking cows in the pasture and got to meet the animals that produced the milk we drink.
After enjoying a hearty meal filled with memories from our weekend farm tour, we went to bed with full bellies and a deeper appreciation for the food on our plates. The next morning, miraculously, we were ready to eat again! After whipping up some eggs from a farm in Canton, we set out some yogurt from North Country Creamery—a staple in the Arcadian diet. The taste of the yogurt brought us back to our visit to North Country Creamery the previous day.
After a quick drive down the road from Mace Chasm Farm, we arrived at the creamery where we planned to spend the night. Ashlee, who owns the creamery with her partner Stephen, immediately led us back to the cheese cave. She explained that cheese from their farm ages at least twelve months before being packaged, and the cheese cave is kept at a perfect temperature and humidity level to do so. We then became acquainted with the cows, a medley of different breeds: some Jersey, some Milking Shorthorn, and many in-between. After visiting some skittish calves in a nearby pasture (who were fascinated with our assistant director’s dog Scooter), we pitched our tents in Ashlee and Stephen’s yard for the night. We awoke early the next morning to watch the cows cross the road to be milked. Ashlee, who has the process down to a science, showed us her daily routine at 6 a.m. She explained that the cows have a distinct hierarchy and pointed to the ones who aren’t afraid to tell their companions who’s the boss. The matriarch with the most power typically has the other cows encircle her as a form of protection from predators while they graze. When asked to identify her favorite part of the job, Ashlee said that the bonds she formed with the cows and the love she had for them made her labor-intensive career worthwhile.
While clearing the table after a filling breakfast on Monday morning, we felt a sense of gratitude for the delicious food we get to savor on a daily basis at Arcadia. Knowing that our food comes from such inspiring, hard-working individuals pushes us to understand what we are consuming. Through our classes and field trips, we have developed a new perspective on the role that consumerism plays in society through a global and local lens.