Experience the Farming Life for Yourself

Originally Posted: Thursday, April 4, 2013


Who hasn’t dreamt of open farmland, rolling hills and fetching this morning’s egg from the heritage hen just outside your door to scramble … then you come to your senses and think that’s a fantasy!


But in the Hudson Valley you can actually try your hand at farming, even for a weekend. Get the insiders experience and all the bragging rights that go along with it on a farm-to-fork adventure. Book a farm stay in the beautiful barn on the property dedicated to the concept of sustainable farming, responsible land stewardship and the welfare of animals.


By pitching in for chores and tending to the animals you gain an understanding of the relationship between the food you eat and how it is grown at Kinderhook Farm in Ghent.


This hard-working farm team of seven people at the bucolic 1,200-acre farm in the Hudson Valley raises up to 800 animals some months that are all grass-fed pasture-raised and certified as “animal welfare approved.”


People say they don’t want to connect the dots between the animal and their food — when in fact — it is exactly what you must do. As a result you will change the way you eat and the future of farming for the health of our children and viable livelihoods in agriculture.


Kinderhook Farm is a collaboration between longtime friends Renee and Steve Clearman and Georgia and Lee Ranney. This year they celebrate 10 years of their vision and commitment to farming with their dedicated co-farmers.


The Ranneys have 20 years of experience raising grass fed beef cattle in West Virginia before settling at Kinderhook Farm and are clearly skilled in their craft. The Clearmans made the venture possible as passionate partners.


Harry Lobdell, the farm manager who knows everything happening at all times on the farm and has amassed an impressive arrowhead collection from found treasures on the land, is the engine of the production.


Anna Hodson and Laura Cline are two savvy city women turned full-time farmers for professional apprentice opportunities, which has served them well by exposure to farming methodology, training and sustaining profitability. Together their work supports herds that are fed an exclusive diet of forages — grasses and legumes — which the species was designed to thrive on.


Lee’s lifework is farming but “Georgia is the queen and involved in all aspects of the farm,” he exclaimed, “We also have very able co-farmers in Laura Cline and Anna Hodson so we don’t have to do everything ourselves.”


They also have dogs they couldn’t live without. The Maremma breed called Sarge and Ollie are the two livestock guardian dogs that live outside and protect their flock. Nellie, the new boxer, is the successor of Louie and now assumes his “greeter” legacy on the farm.


Proud proponents of the grass finished food products, Kinderhook farmers also try to educate customers and visitors about chores, checklists and food choices to enable consumers to make their own decisions about grass fed versus grain/corn fed animals.


“I see us as part of a larger farming community that includes farmers who do things differently than us,” Lee Ranney explained passionately.


Corn-fed beef contributes to a familiar texture and “mouth appeal” we all know from supermarket shelves and restaurants that makes it a better carrier of salt but typically has less flavor when not salted.


“Finishing” the animal by grass-fed grazing allows for how much fat cover and inter-marbling is in your meat — which means tender delicious meat. “Think of this inter-muscular marbling like pie crust where fat melts away and you get that flaky mouth feel and texture — making you feel satisfied,” Hodson told me. This is wholesome good food, period.


“It’s a wonderful place to be and a wonderful place to live,” Cline tells me gazing out from the farmhouse toward the land. A music and arts major that came to Kinderhook Farm by chance through web design, she continues, “You don’t know at the time but it feels like the thing we should all be doing. I love our animals very much. It’s an active social space and a great summer destination spot with the converted barn for visitors and big open fields — you can take part and help or just relax on the hill and read a book.”


With spring in the air anticipation of a prosperous season awaits with 180 ewes lambing (being born) starting April 27. “We can expect up to 250 lambs born,” Hodson explained excitedly. “We become midwives during this time as we check the barn hourly each night expecting the offspring who will take to the fields by June and be weaned from their mothers come fall.”


Americans rarely eat lamb and it is only those in-the-know, that know, who make it a diet staple. Once you eat grass-fed and finished lamb from these farmers’ hard work it’s unlikely you won’t be a lamb lover it is so extraordinarily tasty.


At the store on the farm that is open 24/7 you can buy all types of lamb cuts, hogget (considered a specialty with only 20 of these animals on the farm at once — they are larger and fatter so the flavor is more complex) and mutton (which needs a rebrand of the name!) is simply a lamb raised two years or more.


Environmentally at Kinderhook Farm it is win-win as a closed system of grass and manure so there is no pollution and no runoff. The pastures are managed to optimize feeding by height and type of grasses eaten in rotation management to maintain the diversity of the grasses.


This makes all of the meat they sell flavorful and roaming allows the animals a better lifestyle — despite the myth that grass-fed meat is tough — it’s quite the opposite.


Grass fed meat is lower in both overall fat and calories, and has the advantage of providing more omega-3 fats. Animals at this farm are grass fed for various good reasons — the animals roam free in the fresh air, which is cleaner and better for the environment. They are healthier too as a result of their grass and forage-fed diet which is packed with nutrients and vitamins. The organic leaf of grass offers more nutrition than soy or corn.


For more information on grass-fed versus grain or corn fed cows check out www.eatwild.com.


When you think of chickens you must differentiate between laying hens (for eggs) and meat chickens (for poultry) and knowing these birds will eat anything, they need a free-range environment to roam in the fresh air, never confined to cages. Pasture-raised cage-free birds that feed on organic grasses, eat a diverse diet in the sunshine, are less stressed and more flavorful.


Other practices punish chickens to meet consumer food demand and we should make conscious choices so we clearly express what we want — and what we don’t want in our food. It makes what we eat healthy so we look and feel better.


“Pigs come to farm this time of year and are heritage breeds like Berkshire. After spending time on five acres in open pasture they feast on hickory nuts that fall from trees which make them the local equivalent to Iberico ham,” Hodson tells me.


“Organic meat is expensive!” is often the cry of those not educated on the food system so I asked Hodson and her reply was simple, “I feel that customers who come to our store are not rich. They choose to buy meat here because they believe in buying direct from our pasture raised and grass fed selections of meat and come to see the animals. We are very transparent. We even have vegetarians and vegans come and buy for friends because they trust us.” She continued, “They know what they are getting so they are willing to pay what is fair. It’s about priorities — you have to want high quality.”


Cline added, “We live like kings — we have everything! This should be a thing all people want.”


What people don’t want is to connect animals with their food — but it is exactly the opposite that should occur. It’s so enriching to know that what you eat is also eating honestly and that the animals live so well you can honor this at your own table.


“Having a conversation and relationship with the animals and farming in a way that is responsible makes you feel good about it so it happens nicely. It just seems pretty natural,” Hodson said.


Understanding the connection between comfortable, clean and happy animals with quality farm fresh food packed with taste and nutrition is vital. And the farm visit strengthens your commitment to meet your farmer and know the source of your food. The health of you and your family is at risk if you don’t stand up for your farming community and food choices.


Buy Kinderhook Farm grass-fed beef, pork, lamb, chicken and heritage heirloom eggs at butcher shops (who process the whole animal), direct from the farm market or ask for it at restaurants locally and in New York City. Who knew a weekend at the farm and grazing was the wellness fountain of youth! FarmOn!


Copyright © 2013 Columbia-Greene Media