If you care about where your food comes from and you’ve never been on a farm in your area, I highly recommend you make plans to take part in a farm tour as soon as you can manage. I had the pleasure of enjoying my second recent day-long adventure of farm touring, the Foodie-to-Farm Tour, and it was a memorable extended tour to Chautauqua County in celebration of Feed Your Soul’sÂ fifth year in business. If you’re in the Western New York area, you’re in luck, because Feed Your Soul offers many exciting food events, with several farm tour options each summer and fall. As founder, Christa Glennie Seychew, put it, the farmer-led field walks, in-field sampling and chef-prepared local-centric meals are just a few reasons whyÂ Feed Your Soul’sÂ annual farm tours always sell out, and this yearâ€™s tour was no exception.
Our first stop was Busti Cider Mill & Farm Market (1134 Southwestern Dr., Jamestown). The owners, husband/wife duo, Bob and Judi Schultz,Â brought the cider mill from Syracuse 30 years ago. We had the opportunity to watch the press work its magic, and it was an engrossing, albeit unhurried, process. The apple remnants were hand-wrapped by Bob in a blanket-like cloth, then transferred to the press. It slowly descended on the apple and expelled the juice liquids. The juice then got passed to the lower level tub where it moved into a tube. The cider at Busti has no preservatives in it, and it tastes delicious — and doesn’t leave behind any grit or funny aftertaste. Following the cider mill tour, we shopped at the farm store, where a variety of vegetables and fruits are sold, as well as a plethora of local crafts and goods, edible (maple syrup and dairy) Â and otherwise (knit clothes and handbags).
Our second visit was to meet Steve and Julie Rockcastle atÂ Green Heron Growers (2361 Wait Corners Rd., Panama). I wrote about the passionate owners and their farm for the July issue of Buffalo Spree magazine, so I was especially excited to see them and the property. Our group was greeted by the Rockcastles and their delicious shiitake mushroom pate. After hearing from the couple about how they got their start (see previous link to Spree article), we hopped on the wagon to head into the woods to check out the mushroom logs. Green Heron harvests over 600 pounds of mushrooms per year on average. We saw a few dozen chicks, then headed toward the pastures to see the beautiful grass-fed cows and organicÂ pastures. Their herd includesÂ pure Devons, and Devons crossed with Hereford, Angus, Clarolais and Black Baldy breeds.
Lunch was prepared on-site by the talented ChefÂ Bruce WieszalaÂ ofÂ Carmelo’s and the soon-to-openÂ COPPA cured meats. Chef Bruce used nearly all ingredients from right on the premises, which made for an incredibly fresh, seasonal meal: juicy grassfed beef burgers, topped with bacon, caramelized onions, mushrooms and GruyÃ¨re, and a side of creamy purple and white potato salad. We even had dessert featuring peaches and ginger ice cream in a sweet and spicy bread pudding-like cobbler.
Next up, we ventured to Good Grass Farm (2943 Open Meadows Rd., Ashville), which is owned by Jef Creager and Karen Kearney,Â a sweet couple with a beautiful farm. I was smitten by their adorable little girl, 250 hens and roosters, turkeys, broiler chickens and Decker cows. Jef talked about why he was interested in farming, and it boiled down to being driven by a desire to grow the best food possible. They also cultivate blueberries and organic heirloom produce, and they have honeybees in a buckwheat field.
The next last stop was for wine tasting at Johnson EstateÂ (8419 West Main Rd., Westfield), which is part of the newly minted Lake Erie Wine Trail. The trail is the second largest in the country, and includes Erie, Penn. Although the region primarily grows concord grapes, which are native to the area, Fred and Jennifer Johnson,Â the owners of Johnson Estate, related that many vineyards are growing white grapes and making German style wines. In the tasting room, we tried a dry riesling, a semi dry riesling, cabernet sauvignon (for which they do not grow the grapes, but rather, they’re shipped overnight from Long Island for their winemaking), Marechal Foch, and ice wine. The impressive building was once an apple cold storage facility before it was turned into a winery in 1961. Our educational tour concluded with a trip around the outdoor areas essential to winemaking at the vineyard and the cellar and bottling facility.
Our evening concluded with an amazing meal at the Athenauem HotelÂ at the Chautauqua Institution.Â The five course summer harvest dinner prepared by ChefÂ Ross WarholÂ featured items from several of the farms we visited throughout the day. Here’s a glimpse at the menu we enjoyed:
- First course: Half Acres Farms peach gazpacho
- Second: Athenaeum Hotel tomato salad, green beans, radish top pesto; Red Ribbon Farms garlic custard, herbed croutons
- Third: Green Heron Growers beef tartare, traditional accompaniments, organic hen’s egg yolk
- Fourth: Freeman Homestead Farms duck confit; shiitake mushroom and Lapps Farm cheese custard pierogi; Athenaeum Garden candy striped beets and zucchini, onion caramel
- Fifth: Haff Acres Farms Asian pear and plum cake, wild ginger ice cream
The farm tour was a wonderful way to spend a Sunday, rain and all! I highly recommend the Feed Your Soul events and the eat local resources the organization provides. Check out all they have to offer.