Stone Barns vegetable fields and buildings. Photo: Annabel Braithwaite for Belathee Photography
The parking lot of Stone Barns
, in the Hudson Valley hamlet of Pocantico Hills, is more often than not packed with visitors who have come for a sausage-making seminar or farm tour organized by the education center. Or they've made the pilgrimage to Blue Hill
, a renowned restaurant headed up by the even more renowned chef Dan Barber, with a menu organized around Berkshire pigs, cage-free hens and organic produce from the 80-acre farm. Or they've come to stroll through the herb garden and stock up at the farm stand. Or all of the above.
That's what Stone Barns is today. But for most of the 20 years when I lived nearby, this was not a major foodie destination, and there was certainly no need for a large parking lot next to the deserted stone barns and silos. We came not for a luxurious meal but to hike the miles of carriage trails that meander through woodlands and wetlands, around a lake and up to outlooks offering delicious glimpses of the Hudson River.
There are pastures too, where we saw cows grazing amid wildflowers, lush grasses or fall foliage, depending on the season. In winter, the pastures were empty and, trudging along a snow-blanketed trail, I wondered whether the cows were contentedly munching hay in the barns.
These trails are not officially part of the adjacent Rockefeller State Park Preserve
, but access is allowed to visitors, who need only abide by the family's rather charming dictim that hikers yield right of way to horseback riders. The carriages themselves are long gone, of course, though some are housed at Kykuit
, a hilltop Rockefeller estate that is now part of the National Trust for Historic Preservation.
I could complain, like a crusty old local (okay, ex-local) about changing times and the foodie invasion. But the fact is that I'm happy with the new Stone Barns. I like checking out what's going on at the farm, whether it's pigs rooting in the woods, sheep being rotated to a new pasture or the antics of a runaway chicken. I've filed away some new memories, too, including an extraordinary meal when my husband and I were among the few customers at Blue Hill's bar on a bleak late-spring day. Warmed by a crackling fire, we made our way through a tasting menu of nine courses, paired with wines--utterly satisfying and all the more memorable for its friendly but low-key delivery by the bartender.
The best thing: Stone Barns is about a future that doesn't sacrifice the past. The Rockefellers, Dan Barber and whoever else formed a nonprofit that preserves this place through hard-nosed strategies to make it self-supporting, but their overarching vision seeks to change the way we grow food and eat. That's worth sacrificing a little nostalgia-misted ambience.
Besides, the carriage trails and cows are still there--and I can tell you where to park to avoid that unpleasant $5 charge for the lot.