By B.A. Nilsson
County couple set an example of sustainable agriculture
for the occasional bellow of an amorous boar, the farm seems
oddly quiet. But we’ve driven through so much farmland, so
much countryside to get here, the car windows down on this
hot, muggy day, that we’ve grown accustomed to the rural clamor.
In fact, blackbirds and robins are constantly shrilling, a
flock of hens cackles in the distance, roosters crow, and
every now and then an 800-pound sow named Grumpy lets loose
with a basso sigh.
She’s a Gloucestershire Old Spot, a heritage breed so old
it predates such record keeping, and one that’s known for
its particularly delicious ham and bacon. And that’s why she’s
here, dining on organic grains and vegetables, sampling the
best-quality hay, living in a style of comfort as different
as can be imagined from the way your last ham-supplying pig
And that’s the purpose of this pig. She may weigh in as the
most obvious occupant of the pastures of this farm called
dharma lea, but she’s just one element in a harmony of husbandry
that includes a way of human life as well.
French philosopher Rene Guenon defines “dharma” as “the essential
nature of a being, comprising the sum of its particular qualities
or characteristics, and determining, by virtue of the tendencies
or dispositions it implies, the manner in which this being
will conduct itself, either in a general way or in relation
to each particular circumstance.” “Lea” is an Old English
term for a meadow or garden.
wasn’t an epiphany or anything,” says Phyllis Van Amburgh,
“but we did think carefully to find a name for our farm that
best reflected our intentions.” The farm, which she owns and
operates with her husband, Paul, covers 174 acres in the Montgomery
County town of Sprakers. They lease another 140 acres nearby.
Grumpy is but one of eight sows, most of which are crosses
of Old Spots and Tamworths, another heritage breed known for
its leaner meat. While Grumpy snoozes by the nearest fence,
the others are scattered throughout the muddy pasture. And
there seem to be piglets galore, trotting about in groups
of three or four, paying no heed to the hens strutting alongside,
exploring the bug-rich ground.
Beef cattle graze in another pasture, a herd of 15 English
Hereford, whose grain-free diet, completely different from
industrially processed supermarket beef, produces meat with
a markedly better flavor.
And, whether you’re enjoying beef, pork or chicken from this
farm, you’re dining on meat free of the chemicals forced upon
the creatures both to provoke quicker-than-normal growth (and
passing those growth hormones along to you) and to compensate
antibiotically for the filthy conditions in which the animals
Although Phyllis and Paul both grew up in rural towns in the
Albany area; they were headed in different career directions
when they met. Paul was sales manager for a glove importing
company, while Phyllis was studying occupational therapy and
working in a pediatrician’s office.
was seeing a tremendous number of food-allergy cases among
children,” says she, “which coincided with the rise of pervasive
developmental delay, a condition that falls under the autism
At the same time, she and Paul were taking care of a farm
in Rensselaer County, where Phyllis, always an equine enthusiast,
was raising draft horses. “So we often went to draft-horse
events, which bring together traditional farmers who use horses,
rotate crops and grow organically, and are very interested
in health issues. It wasn’t long before the light went on
and I realized that I was seeing evidence of the harmful effects
of corporate farming upon children.”
Sustainable agriculture includes the processing of the meat,
which led the Van Amburghs to work with a nearby company,
Northeast Livestock Processing Service Co., to find the best
slaughterhouses, which is a challenge for the small farmer
who still wants to merit U.S. Department of Agriculture approval.
Employing a quality-control middleman gives the small farms
like dharma lea what is essentially collective-bargaining
power, and thus better access to the processors.
You can see the result in the recently expanded meat department
at Albany’s Honest Weight Food Co-Op, where dharma lea’s kielbasa,
chorizo, bacon and hot dogs are among the offerings. You can
also see it right at the farm, where you’re encouraged to
pick up your order.
Pork products include the usual chops and ribs, hams and roasts,
as well as a sausage variety that includes sage-rich breakfast
links and sweet or hot Italian-style blends. Turkeys are soon
to be added to the poultry variety (don’t forget the fresh
eggs), and the first round of beef processing is set to begin
needs to be neighborly,” says Sarah Johnston, executive director
of the Northeast Organic Farming Association of New York,
“and that’s a criteria for a good organic farm. You’d enjoy
living next door to it because their animals are raised on
pasture and you know that their kids are petting them up to
the animals’ last days.” NOFA-NY is a consortium of farmers
and gardeners—and consumers as well—intent on creating and
maintaining a sustainable food system that’s not only ecologically
sound but also economically viable. “Many people are still
largely unaware of the nightmares that are part of raising
cheap meat in this country. Paul and Phyllis understand the
benefits to the consumer of grass-fed meats.”
Farming is a tougher-than-ever career, thanks to a corporate-sponsored
model that has compromised sound techniques in the pursuit
of lowest-possible pricing. To eat well used to mean to eat
until you’re fat, but we’ve done that as a culture and we’re
suffering for it. To eat well should now mean to eat responsibly,
and sustainable, chemical-free agriculture is the only model
that makes any sense.
There’s also a less-tangible moral aspect to a model in which
the animals you eat live in peace and comfort, as was clearly
the case in the barns and pastures at dharma lea. Perhaps
that’s why it seemed so quiet.
here for a list of recently reviewed restaurants.
of the best in-state summer trips is a tour of
the Finger Lakes wine country, where you can set
up in a bed and breakfast and travel the length
of the lakes. Add another stop to your journey
by visiting the New York Wine and Culinary
Center in Canandaigua (right on the lake,
in fact). This newly opened facility features
a training kitchen, a 44-seat demonstration theater,
and a tasting room featuring the best of the state’s
wine. There is also the Taste of New York Lounge,
where you can pair food and wine samples, an outdoor
orchard and vineyard, an exhibit hall with interactive
displays and a retail center. It’s located at
800 South Main St., phone (585) 394-7070. . .
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very much enjoyed eating dinner at Daniel's
at Ogdens. You review described my dining
experience perfectly. This wasn't the case
with Pancho's. I much prefer Garcia's or
Lake View Tavern for Mexican fare. I agree
that a restaurant can have an off night
so I'll give the second unit on Central
Avenue a try.
yes I miss the star ratings, bring it back.
Second, I haven't had a chance to visit
Poncho's yet, but I especially like reading
would travel to Amsterdam to this restaurant
- it's not that far away. People traveled
from all over to eat at Ferrandi's in Amsterdam.
From his background, I'm sure the chef's
sauce is excellent and that is the most
important aspect of an Italian restaurant.
Sometimes your reviewer wastes words on
the negative aspects of a restaurant. I'm
looking forward to trying this restaurant
- I look forward to Metroland every Thursday
especially for the restaurant review. And
by the way Ferrandi's closed its Amsterdam
location and is opening a new bistro on
Saratoga Lake - Should be up and running
in May. It will be called Saratoga Lake
Bistro. It should be great!
comments about the Indian / Pakistani restaurants
being as "standardized as McDonald's"
shows either that you have eaten at only
a few Indian / Pakistani restaurants or
that you have some prejudices to work out.
That the physical appearances are not what
you would consider fancy dancy has no bearing
on the food. And after all, that is what
the main focus of the reviews should be.
Not the physical appearances, which is what
most of your reviews concentrate on.
A restaurant like The Shalimar, down on
Central Avenue, may not look the greatest,
but the food is excellent there. And the
menu has lots of variety - beef, lamb, vegetarian,
chicken, and more..