One August morning I join a group of 10-, 11-, and 12-year-old campers receiving a lesson in the greenhouse on how to pick lettuce. “Hold the plant here,” says Shannon, gripping it at the base with one hand, “and pluck off the leaves with your other hand.” She directs each group of children to fill a metal bowl with the tender leaves and encourages the kids to sample the flavors as they do. “It’s safe to eat them without washing,” she adds. “We don’t use chemicals here.”
Ten-year-old Snowden Jones, his T-shirt damp from a pass under the greenhouse sprinklers, gets straight to work on the arugula. Pushing a leaf into his mouth and chewing, he declares, “Oh my God, it tastes like buffalo wings—really.” Like the flock of heritage turkeys foraging in the forest outside, more kids move in to pick off the leaves of this peppery lettuce, a member of the mustard family. Their eyes bulge as the spicy zing hits their tongues.
A short time later the campers don freshly pressed white chef’s aprons and march single file into the large kitchen, where giant stockpots are bubbling and a small army of chefs are dicing, spooning, and stirring preparations for the evening’s dinner service. Around a stainless steel counter, a handful of the kids create masterpieces for their enjoyment, wiggling their dough-coated fingers in a crumbly mixture of flour, sugar, and butter that will top off tins filled with plump, fresh blueberries. On the other side of the kitchen, the second half of the group takes turns folding the corners of diamond-shaped pastry dough over piles of cooked squash, eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, and carrots held together with ricotta cheese.
Afterward they head into the dining room to taste the vegetable pastries they prepared along with the salads made from the greens they plucked from the ground only two hours ago. “It’s amazing that something this healthy tastes so delicious,” says Isabel Grieder, 10, wiping her mouth with her cloth napkin ever so politely before she asks me to please write down the recipe for her—so she can make the meal for her parents as soon as she gets home.
This place is so much more than a classroom, a restaurant, or a farm; it represents a lifestyle that suffuses the taste buds with food’s joyous possibilities. In my warm blueberry crumble dessert I can taste a hint of the future: a place where all the food is fresh and free of polluting toxins, where small-scale farming is a viable way to make a good living, and where supporting it is the means to a happy and healthy life. “What’s promising about Stone Barns,” says Barber, “is it takes these issues that can often seem frustrating—because it sounds like your mother telling you what to eat—and it reframes it and roots it in pleasure. You can enter from the dining room table, or from the farm. Any way you experience it, the whole point is pleasure.”