Ralph Gardner Jr: Enjoying Dinner With Our Community

Feb 24, 2018

Here’s some advice if you’ve been invited to a community dinner. Get there early. By the time we wandered in halfway through Eat Here Ghent, an event last Sunday afternoon to celebrate the farms and farmers of Ghent, NY, a town with a thriving local food scene in Columbia County, much of the feast had been consumed.

That’s not to suggest we went home hungry. The good folks at Kinderhook Farm had created a winter meat pie for a party – that’s what the recipe is called – that lived up to its billing because there was still lots left. And it was delicious. A combination of the farm’s braising beef, broth and crust. Supposedly it’s easy to make, rustic cuisine at its best. But Kinderhook Farm helpfully included the recipe for those who want to assemble it for a farm crew, or just friends and family, and the recipe fills a full page in small print.

My suggestion is that they start selling it at their farm store. I’m ready to place my order. The dish certainly hit the spot on a chilly winter evening.

There were also remnants of an excellent beef and pork meatball hero, made by Grazin’ Angus Acres farm, on a Hawthorne Valley baguette. The event was held at the Hawthorne Valley School’s assembly hall.

And for dessert, Maple Leaf Sugaring, a local maple syrup producer with 4,000 taps, had supplied dreamy bite-sized pecan maple cream sandwiches.

Also on hand was Robin McKay who was offering samples of Robin’s Kitchen View fruitcake, a holiday season treat that tastes great year-round and is guaranteed to win over even fruitcake haters.

The event emerged from a research project by three fellows at the Good Work Institute – Lisa Dudley, Enid Futterman and Dara Lurie.

The Good Work Institute is a non-profit that believes that solutions to some of the planet’s most intractable problems – such as financial inequality and ecological devastation – rests in bringing people together at the local level, the Hudson Valley in particular.

And it was easy to feel optimistic as the afternoon’s farmers and chefs rose before a well-nourished audience of approximately 100 and offered their personal histories and philosophies, some of them old timers, others pink-cheeked Millennials.

They were introduced by Koethi Zan, a local activist and organizer, not to mention lawyer, novelist, and mother who’s done as much as anyone to bring the community together.

For example, there was Hans Schober – perhaps my main regret is that I didn’t get there in time to try his sliced sirloin and ribeye – who described switching from dairy to cattle farming in recent years, while raising seven kids.

“I’m still broke but I don’t work as hard,” he joked.

And then there was Laura Klein of Kinderhook Farm who detailed the challenges of supplying the farm’s popular website with photographs while simultaneously trying to remain in tune with the livestock.

How does she handle the pressure: “I get to hang out with a great crew that likes making poop jokes,” she explained.

The main takeaway from the event – besides, as I mentioned, that it pays to be prompt and at the front of any buffet line – is the number of talented, hard working idealistic people attracted to farming these days (there are far easier ways to make a living) and how fortunate we are to have access to their bounty.

I’d met some of the farmers previously because we buy their stuff on a weekly basis. Jersey Meadows Farm raw milk, for example, run by a young Mennonite family.

I recall my father and grandfather talking about milk in the old days when it was delivered to your stoop every morning, the cream floating to the top.

Well, it’s back.

Raw milk might be for everyone. But I like the idea of a light film of cream on my morning coffee.

Perhaps in combination with a Parisian quality croissant from the Bartlett House, another of the event’s providers.

It’s owner, Lev Glazman, who with his wife Alina Roytberg, founded the cosmetics company Fresh, explained how his heart started racing when he looked in the window of the former 19th century hotel on Route 66 and determined to pursue his dream of building an excellent restaurant and bakery there.

I’m glad he did. My modest goal for the spring is to add the Bartlett House to our bike loop, fulfilling an ambition to satisfy all our shopping needs, or most of them, within the distance of an only mildly strenuous morning bike ride.

There must be similar stories of a nucleus of farms, restaurants and enthusiastic consumers cropping up in communities throughout the Hudson Valley and perhaps the nation as a whole. As dysfunction only seems to grow at the national level, that old mantra -- think globally, act locally – seems more urgent than ever.

So what is it about Ghent, NY, that a single, rural town could produce a thriving local food and agriculture scene and a menu that ranged from Goat Meat and Oyster mushroom Bolognese over Penne, made by Woven Stars Farm, to an estate red and white supplied by Hudson-Chatham Winery? To be honest, I’m not sure. But it starts with people with vision, bolstered by a community that prizes their efforts and is willing to support them.

I certainly know what I’m having for lunch today. Love Apple Farm’s Chicken Apple Cheddar Chili. I don’t know how I missed it when we arrived but I helped myself to some on the way out.

Ralph Gardner, Jr. is a journalist who divides his time between New York City and Columbia County. More of his work can be found at ralphgardner.com

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management.