Hawthorne Valley Farm in Ghent, New York
"Dairy manager Peter Kindel even had to turn down Martha Stewart’s request to bring her the milk at an off-premise farmers' market once."
This week we decided to profile a Greenmarket personality: Hawthorne Valley (partly because we're obsessed with their cookies). Each week, they travel to the Union Square and Inwood Greenmarkets to sell their greens, dairy products, meat, baked goods, and lacto-fermented vegetables, all certified organic and biodynamic. To get to know them even better, we traveled up to the farm in Ghent, New York.
First, a little backstory: Hawthorne Valley was founded in the 1970s by a group of anthroposophists—that is, followers of anthroposophy, the spiritual philosophy of Rudolf Steiner that inspired biodynamic farming. Basically, biodynamicism is the first ecological farming system. It advocates using all-natural fertilizers from the farm's own animals, preserving the terroir of each carrot and potato. There's also some wonkier stuff about astronomy and planting cycles. The farm is part of a non-profit association that includes a school and summer camp.
Hawthorne Valley started as a dairy farm, and back in the 1970s, the farm store consisted of a loaf of bread, hunk of cheese, and tin cup for customers to leave their money. Today, it's a five-million dollar per year operation, selling organic food, gardening supplies, recycled toilet paper, you name it. In other words, it’s more like Whole Foods than a typical roadside farmstand—except the Whole Foods parking lot doesn’t smell like manure.
Anyone shopping at the store can wander out back to meet the pigs, chickens, horses, cows and crops responsible for their groceries. The animals roam freely, maybe even a little too freely—when no one was watching, we may have stuck our fingers through a fence to pet a pig or two.
In the distance, the farm’s sixty brown Swiss cows graze peacefully; forty of them produce milk for the farm's extensive line of cheeses, yogurt, buttermilk, and raw milk.
Hawthorne Valley is one of a handful of dairies in the state licensed to sell their milk unpasteurized; one caveat among many is that they may only sell it from their own premises. Loyal customers regularly drive three or four hours to buy it. Dairy manager Peter Kindel even had to turn down Martha Stewart’s request to bring her the milk at an off-premise farmers' market once. We bought a quart, and it didn’t taste any different from other high-quality Greenmarket dairy. But fans say it's easier to digest and more nutritious, as the high temperature of pasteurization denature helpful enzymes and nutrients.
Hawthorne Valley's other big draw is the lacto-fermented vegetable products, including kimchi, dilly beans, and various sauerkrauts. Lacto-fermentation uses naturally occurring bacteria to preserve food, rather than adding vinegar or cultures like most commercially made sauerkrauts. Lacto-fermented foods are acidic enough that they can be jarred without heating, which some people, likely friends of the raw milk proponents, believe preserves beneficial bacteria. We’re most concerned with how crunchy and colorful the krauts are, and that they come in cool flavors like curry and ginger carrot.
On top of all this, did we mention Hawthorne Valley makes the world's best oatmeal raisin cookies? And, at the farm store, they never run out.
Hawthorne Valley has been selling produce at the Greenmarket in Union Square since 1980. In 2004, they started attending the Inwood Greenmarket too, where you can find them on Saturdays, year-round. Or you can visit the farm itself.