A Weekend in Essex

by: Marly Davies&Anna Dieffenbach

Gwen directed us to the large rocks outside the butcher shop so we would have a comfortable introductory setting. We sat in the crisp morning air, facing a stunning view of the Essex County fall foliage. As we listed to Gwen, Chad, and Nate tell us about their family business, our minds wandered to the impending chicken slaughter ahead.

This past weekend we drove to Essex County (on the eastern edge of the Adirondacks) and toured three local farms, a local food hub, and the North Country School. We took part in this expedition to learn about the sources of our food and the importance of local farming to the regional community. North Country Creamery focuses on dairy products, including the yogurt we eat every morning at Arcadia and the cheese we will enjoy at our family dinner. Reber Rock is a meat farm owned by two young couples who guided us through a chicken slaughter. Another meat farm, Mace Chasm, showed us around their property and explained the challenges of being small-scale, local meat farmers. To connect farms like these, The Hub on the Hill houses a commercial kitchen and storehouse that farmers can rent out. Their small storefront advertises local businesses and sells many of the products made in-house. They also help with distribution of these products, bringing them as far as New York City. Lastly, the North Country School is a private boarding school with a similar mission to that of the Adirondack Semester but for students in grades 4-9. Students raise animals, develop a green thumb in the garden, and go on weekly adventures to experience all that the local land and people have to offer.

At Reber Rock, when Chad wraps up his farm talk, he raises a few arguments against meat farming. He tells us that a common antagonizing comment they receive is that the land they’re using to raise meat could be put to better use per acre with crop farming. However, he points out to us that not only is there enough food in the world and the real problem is with our failed distribution system, but also that their practices benefit the land itself. With their grass-fed animals and rotational grazing, these farmers have noticed the positive benefits that animals have on the land. Their manure acts as fertilizer, their hooves pound important elements (such as carbon) into the soil, and their grazing keeps grass levels in check.

In many of our classes at Arcadia, we have discussed the positives and negatives of agriculture, as well as its history in the region. Through Creative Expressions and Land-Use Change, we’ve learned about the struggles farmers have to make a living through the long Adirondack winters. Knowing Nature has taught us about the importance of local food and supporting small businesses to help them flourish. Meanwhile, in Ecology we’ve learned about the ecological make-up of the region, which is important for farmers to know when choosing land and crops for production.

As we strolled into the storefront of The Hub on the Hill, we were greeted by smiling photos of the owners of local farms benefiting from this program, including individuals we had met a few hours prior. We began to tour the rest of the building, stopping in the shiny industrial kitchen to chat with two women from Essex Farm who were there cooking. According to our tour guide and the owner, this is a common scene—the facilities are booked almost every day. She told us about how the space has fostered a strong sense of community for locals, including the owner herself, who claims to rarely cook at home anymore due to the social aspect of cooking at the Hub.

During the visit, we Arcadians were shown some of the similarities between our community and the greater Adirondack community. Similar to the Hub, cooking and eating at Arcadia are daily events that bring us pride, joy, and a sense of connection to one another. Also, all of our meals are created from products sourced from the North Country. We get our veggies from a local CSA, our eggs from Cathy Shrady’s Amish neighbors and Cornell Cooperative Extension of St. Lawrence County farm, groceries from a local and natural food store in Tupper Lake, and our meat from both 8 O’clock Ranch and Reber Rock Farm. All of these meals are eaten family style at a very large table and are a great way to catch up with everyone throughout our busy days.

A major aspect of this past weekend was our annual chicken slaughter where students were given the opportunity to kill a chicken for meat to be served at our family dinner. Although this slaughter event may seem harsh, these chickens are given far better lives than most store-bought chickens and are killed in the most humane and painless way possible. It was an eye-opening experience that gave us the ability to get closer to our food and reinforced the importance of buying local, which is an important piece of life at Arcadia.