Thursday, July 2, 2009

Our Brush with Richard Branson: Sustainable Agriculture Rises to a New Level

Earlier this year, Sterling College placed two recent grads, Angie Revallo and Ben Mackie (giving tractor driving pointers to Sir Richard in the photo) at Natirar’s Culinary Center, Ninety Acres, in a collaborative effort with Rutgers University, to achieve agricultural authenticity and develop the Farm to Fork model for sustainable agriculture.

Take the international influence of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin trademark, a 100-year old estate in central New Jersey, newly minted organic farmers from northern Vermont, and a culinary school and you get the exciting beginnings of a farm-to-cooking school-to-table resort enterprise—The Farm at Natirar.

Named for the number of acres of land leased from Somerset County, Ninety Acres Culinary Center consists of a restaurant, cooking school, and a working farm complete with livestock and herb gardens.

It is no surprise that recent graduates of Sterling are very proficient at using the tools and skills they learned on campus in today’s “real world." Natirar discovered this first hand when Angela Revallo and Benjamin Mackie joined the development team. Both graduates of Sterling’s class of 2009, Angie and Ben were hired as Natirar’s full–time farmers and have begun strategically planning and implementing the farms, gardens, and livestock programs on the property. They are supported in this massive undertaking, not only by the professors and administrators that taught them during their years as undergraduates in Vermont, but also by the faculty at Rutgers NJAES and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences who are right in the “backyard” of their new home in New Jersey.

Natirar is collaborating with both Sterling College, Vermont, and the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences and the New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station, NJAES, both units of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Building an Agricultural Economy

From Eating Well (July/August 2009):

An illustrated map of one rural foodie town.

By David Goodman, for EatingWell, July/August 2009

Here, in a tiny corner of northern Vermont where cattle seem to outnumber people, farms and food businesses are blossoming and garnering both national and international attention. Their secret? Collaboration. Here’s how it works.

(1) Claire’s Restaurant—Two years ago, more than 100 locals bought shares to help start a “locavore” restaurant in Hardwick, recently named one of the top “up and coming” restaurants in the U.S. Down the road in Morrisville, locals loved “their” restaurant so much they chipped in to support (2) The Bee’s Knees when it needed a cash infusion.

Both restaurants source most of their ingredients locally, including cornmeal and other grains from (3) Butterworks Farms, which also produces yogurt and is part of (4) Pete’s Greens CSA. Though Pete’s Greens is best known for the organic baby greens it once sold to trendy restaurants in Boston and New York, today half its business comes from its Good Eats CSA, which bundles everything—from its own greens to bread and bacon made by other local producers—and delivers it to some 250 neighboring members.

When (5) High Mowing Organic Seeds, one of the country’s largest purveyors of organic seeds, had a surplus of pumpkin, it went to the Pete’s Greens kitchen to be made into pies that were given to the local food bank. High Mowing Organic Seeds founder Tom Stearns is the president of the (6) Center for an Agricultural Economy, a not-for-profit founded by (7) Vermont Soy entrepreneur Andrew Meyer with the goal of building a sustainable community around food and agriculture.

You can find the best products of the region—ranging from seeds to soy—at the (8) Buffalo Mountain Co-op, one of the oldest in the country. It’s also a good place to pick up lamb and sheep’s-milk cheeses from (9) Bonnieview Farms and other cheeses from (10) Ploughgate Creamery, (11) Cabot Creamery and (12) Jasper Hill Farm, whose 22,000-square-foot cave (said to be the finest in the U.S.) ages many of the region’s award-winning cheeses.

Two agricultural-education centers complete the circle, with (13) Sterling College sending many of its students to work on farms and (14) Highfields Institute focusing on composting and providing sustainable solutions for many of the neighboring farms and businesses.

So, a squash grown from High Mowing Organic seeds in the greenhouses at Pete’s Greens might be harvested by a Sterling College student and then served at Claire’s. Claire’s leftovers might be composted at Highfields Institute, then returned to fertilize High Mowing Organic Seeds’s land.

Please visit Eating Well for more information about the Hardwick area and for free locally sourced recipes.