Friday, October 30, 2009

Northeastern Exposure Part 3 – Legends in Sleepy Hollow

By Jeannette Beranger

I left Tilley Foster Farm in Brewster, New York, and made my way south to meet with Craig Haney, Farm Manager of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, in Tarrytown. He and I were scheduled to give a presentation together at the famous Astor Center in New York City that evening. Along the way, I wanted to stop in the infamous community of Sleepy Hollow (yes, it actually exists!) that is adjacent to Tarrytown.

The first thing you notice coming into the town is the huge, historic cemetery where the famous author, Washington Irving, is buried. At the entrance to the cemetery is the former location of the bridge that Irving describes in his novel as “the place where poor Ichabod Crane meets the Headless Horseman.” The covered bridge is no longer there but there are the remains of a 17th century manor house. The property has become a living history museum that is open to the public. Philipsburg Manor is a beautiful facility that incorporates some rare breeds into its programs. I came upon an impressive Randall Lineback oxen team comprised of Jacob and Joshua. The two, led by farm manager Stephen Kozack, were busy pulling a load of hay from a nearby field on the property. Along the way, they passed numerous Wiltshire Horn sheep crosses that populate the entire farm and make visitors feel as if they have stepped back in time onto a working farm.

Time was growing short, so I made my way to Stone Barns in the next town over. Formerly an estate owned by David Rockefeller, the property is now open to the public and is dedicated to celebrating and teaching advanced community-based food production and enjoyment as well as “farm to classroom to table.” Several heritage crops and animals are raised at Stone Barns including heritage chickens, turkeys, and geese. I met up with Craig and along with his wife and new daughter and we made our way into New York City to the Astor Center.

The Astor Center, located in NoHo on the eastern edge of Greenwich Village, has the reputation of selling one of the most diverse collections of wine and spirits in the entire city. In keeping with the independent culture of “the village,” Astor goes beyond being just “another store” by offering a wide assortment of courses and presentations ranging from cooking, wine, food, and culture. ALBC was invited to the learning center at Astor to talk about rare breeds and how they are finding their way back onto farms and onto the American dinner table. Craig followed by talking about how rare breeds are incorporated into the sustainable farming practices of Stone Barns. The class was nearly filled to capacity and was well received by attendees. Craig and I were very pleased to see several familiar faces of friends from the Slow Food USA national office in NYC.

The trek northeast came to an end after NYC and I was very happy to finally make my way back to North Carolina and back to my own farm. My stay in North Carolina wasn’t very long as I had field work in Washington state and Oregon a couple of weeks later. On the road again….

Happy Halloween All!

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

St. Croix on the Ark of Taste

ALBC is very excited to share that Slow Food USA has added the St. Croix sheep breed to its “Ark of Taste.” The US Ark of Taste is a catalog of over 200 delicious foods in danger of extinction. Through the promotion and eating Ark products we can help ensure they remain in production and on our dinner tables.

To qualify for inclusion on the Ark of Taste, a product must be:
Outstanding in terms of taste—as defined in the context of local traditions and uses
At risk biologically or as culinary traditions
Sustainably produced
Culturally or historically linked to a specific region, locality, ethnicity or traditional production practice
Produced in limited quantities, by farms or by small-scale processing companies

ALBC hopes that the St. Croix will enjoy population growth as a result of its recent listing on the Ark of Taste. We hope more people will learn about this breed and its great meat qualities.

About the St. Croix
The St. Croix is an American sheep breed that is part of the Caribbean Hair sheep family of breeds. Caribbean Hair sheep were developed from the hair sheep of West Africa and a few European wooled sheep that were brought to the Caribbean beginning in the 1600s. The sheep proliferated as subsistence livestock, and they were also valued for the manure critical to sugar cane production.

Over time, Caribbean Hair sheep became well adapted to the heat and humidity of their environment. The hair coat, which eliminates the need for shearing, is part of this adaptation. Today, there are several landrace populations within this breed family in the Caribbean. Two breeds, the Barbados and the St. Croix, are also found in North America.
In 1975, Dr. Warren Foote of Utah State University imported 22 ewes and three rams from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands. Foote chose a relatively consistent group of polled, white sheep from a landrace called Virgin Islands White. Offspring of this imported group were further selected for consistency of conformation, and this process has resulted in the development of the St. Croix, a standardized breed in the United States.

The St. Croix is adapted to the heat and humidity of a tropical climate, and this adaptation has several manifestations. The breed has well documented parasite resistance, far superior to that found in most other sheep breeds. It is small, with ewes averaging 120 pounds and rams 165 pounds. St. Croix sheep are known for high fertility, and ewe lambs become fertile at about six months of age. Ewes often produce twins and have plenty of milk to raise them. Two lambings a year are not uncommon.

St. Croix sheep are excellent foragers and very easy keepers. Their browsing ability makes them useful for land management, including mowing grass in orchards and the control of invasive pest plants. Though heat tolerant, the sheep can be raised in many parts of North America. In colder areas, they grow a heavy winter coat of wool and hair that is shed in the spring. This combination of characteristics makes the breed an excellent choice for low input meat production. The St. Croix is increasing in numbers, and though it is still rare, the breed’s future seems promising.