A few years ago, I researched Dutchess County farm experiences for a project. I wanted to share my discoveries with our readers, who I know are food lovers as well as travelers.
We spent years living in Dutchess County in New York State’s picturesque Hudson Valley. We were excited to discover that now there are many Dutchess County farm experiences that welcome visitors. When we lived in Clinton Corners, a small Dutchess County hamlet a few decades ago, two things were different. We weren’t yet committed to eating sustainable food and farm-to-table was a nascent movement in the area. There were farms where you could get fresh food; a few farmers markets were getting started but there weren’t a lot of vendors. While there were small health food stores, not a “natural foods” mega-market was in sight. The small selection of organic produce at a few local shops was pricey and not appealing to look at. We’d sometimes drive 45-minutes north to Hawthorne Valley Farms to buy their thick, creamy bio-dynamic yogurt; we’d pick local strawberries, buy local peaches, apples and cider at farm stands, but for us, that was it.
We stared eating a mostly organic diet when we moved to Colorado in 1996. We joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) program at a local farm, we shopped at weekend farmers markets and we joined the local food co-op. There were large health-conscious grocery chains that made converting to a more sustainable lifestyle feasible for us. We haven’t looked back.
I was curious about what was going on in terms of fresh-from-the farm food in our old home and started doing some research for an article I’d pitched. It was very nostalgic going back to the area by phone. I “met” people who knew people I’d known and places we’d loved. Here are some of the Dutchess County farm experiences I discovered with a little research.
Sprout Creek Farm
Sprout Creek Farm is a suburban oasis sitting on the southeastern edge of Poughkeepsie, the Dutchess County seat. The farm, started at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Greenwich, Connecticut in 1982, moved to its current site in 1990. Sister Margo Morris, a former English teacher who started the convent’s farm program to teach her students about farming, is still at the helm, the last sister left at Sprout Creek. What started out as a homestead with a few cows milked by hand and a few ducks, goats, chicken, pigs and sheep has grown exponentially. Today Sprout Creek Farm is three distinct, yet entwined, entities: a working farm, a market, and an educational center offering programs “that help connect young people to the land, the seasons, and the plants and animals that co-exist here in harmonious rhythm.”
The farm which now produces over 40,000 pounds of cheese a year including bloomy rind cheeses such as Brie, washed rind cheeses (which Sister Margo calls “stinky cheeses”), and fresh goat cheeses. They also raise free-ranging cows, sheep, goats, turkeys, guinea fowl, chickens, and pigs. The market sells Sprout Creek’s award-winning cheeses as well as their farm-produced meats. It also carries other Hudson Valley produced milk, eggs and vegetables as well as locally hand-crafted items and gifts.
The 200-acre farm that Sister Margo says is mostly “woman run,” became an independent non-profit corporation in 2011 with Sister Margo as head of the board. She calls Sprout Creek “an accessible place for people to have a farm experience.” Visitors can come for the cheese-making tours, to visit the farm store or to attend Friday burger nights. They can even rent a cottage for a farm stay. There’s also an overnight summer camp for kids.
We lived a few miles from Millbrook Vineyards and Winery when they opened in the mid-1980s. Driving passed the 130 acre vineyard we could see the fields being turned into a vineyard. It was on a route we often took between Clinton Corners and Millbrook where our son went to school. The winery was the brain-child of John Dyson, former New York State Commissioner of both commerce and agriculture in the 1970s. When he started the vineyard there were very few wine producers in the state; most located in the Finger Lake Region in western New York. Today the state boasts over 200 wineries. Millbrook Vineyards and Winery makes 30 different wines producing over 15,000 cases each year.
Visitors can take an hour-long tour of the property (cost $11 per person). The tour, which in warmer months visits the vineyards, always includes a stop of the wine-making operation and ends in the tasting room. Three white wines and three reds are sampled on each tour. Getting to view the wine-making is something that makes the Millbrook Vineyards tour unique. Tour guides are chosen for their passion for wine (many are students at the nearby Culinary Institute of America). They are well-versed in how the Millbrook wines are made. The winery offers a reserve tasting of the higher end wines by reservation only. Millbrook Vineyards and Winery is open daily (except major holidays) from 12am to 5pm (later in summer). The Vineyard Grille, serving lunch under a tent, is open weekends, from Memorial Day through October.
Want to know how maple syrup is made? Head for Madava Farms, a cutting edge sugaring operation set on 800 maple-treed acres in Dover Plains where Crown Maple® is made. The farm, named for the owners’ two daughters, Maddie and Ava, houses “the most advanced maple syrup production facility in the country.” Their entire production process from tapping to bottling is green and sustainable. From mid-January into April the farm collects the sap for the syryp. In 2016, they had about 90,000 taps (the hole put into the tree to collect the sap) on approximately 4,000 acres which yielded about 27,000 gallons of syrup. Madava’s tagline: “Quite Possibly the Purest Maple Syrup on Earth®.”
Madava has tours on Saturdays and Sundays throughout most of the year. The tour schedule is on their website; tickets can be purchased in advance. Plan to spend the day. In addition to their hour-long tour of the production facilities and tastings, visitors can enjoy extensive hiking trails and ponds. Bring a picnic or have lunch at the Farm Stand Café. Every week CIA (Culinary Institute of America) trained chefs create a new menu using locally grown and produced foods when possible. Before you leave, stop at the farm store and take home a bottle of Crown Maple.
Bring home a taste of the Hudson Valley
Want to take home some produce or artisanal food produced in the Hudson Valley? Most of the farms above have shops where you can buy directly. There are also burgeoning farmers markets throughout the area. If you’re driving to Dutchess County from either NYC or Albany or points in-between take the scenic Taconic State Parkway and stop at the New York State-run, Taste NY Market at Todd Hill Road. A 1930s era gas station is now a market showcasing foods and produce from farms around New York State.
Other Dutchess County farm experiences
Vine and grain
Gangster Dutch Schultz had a farm in Pine Plains in Northern Dutchess County. Dutch’s Spirits, a distillery, farmers market and more has recently opened on his new property. They’re open weekends.
Clinton Vineyards, in our old hometown, welcomes visitors to their tasting room on weekends to sample their estate wines and see how they’re made.
Cascade Mountain Winery offers tastings of the wines they have produced since the 1970s as well as a restaurant.
Pick your own
Seasonal pick-your-own produce is available at a number of area farms:
Greig’s Farm in Red Hook has pick your own seasonally. There’s a crop schedule on their website. On Saturdays they’re also home to the Hudson Valley Farmers Market.
Mead Orchards in Tivoli also offers a variety of pick your own options as well.
Fishkill Farms in Hopewell Junction also offers a variety of seasonal crops to pick. They also host music festivals during the picking season.
Dutchess County Tourism has put together a list of Dutchess County farmers markets. You can also contact them for information about more Dutchess County farm experiences or any questions about visiting the area.