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Finding Our Fabulous Farms

October 20, 2015

I’m guilty. So that means I can’t be too judgemental. But there’s an alarming trend that I’ve noticed, and it demands some attention.

Today, we won’t focus on the whole trend, but rather one data point. And I hope in the days and weeks to come to cover additional data points. That way, those who doubt that today’s story is part of a larger narrative will see a bit more of the big picture.

For those who are just tuning in, one of the big questions the FLB has been trying to answer over the past several years is, “Why is food not better in the Capital Region?” And we’ve come up with lots of answers. But I’ve still been flummoxed with the fact that we’re surrounded by great local farms, and yet precious little of their delicious bounty winds up on restaurant menus.

I’ve come to realize that locals just haven’t found these critical culinary resources.

This past Sunday, I was invited to dinner by Carol Clement, owner and farmer at Heather Ridge Farm in Preston Hollow. Rob Handel is the chef there, and once a month they host a five course supper club. October’s menu was all about poultry. November is going to be all about pastured pork.

I had first met Carol and Rob when celebrating some festive occasion with Deanna Fox at her farm, or homestead, or what-have-you. Anyway, I was excited by what they were doing with local and foraged ingredients, but in all honesty the farm felt just a bit too far away for me to visit.

Like I said at the start, I’m guilty here too.

But if you want to eat, locally, seasonally, and sustainably, this is how you do it. The farm raised the birds, the chef foraged for ingredients, the owners pressed the cider, and the remaining ingredients were sourced from local producers.

When you are responsible for raising the animals, I think the resulting dishes are treated with a bit more respect and thought, often with delicious results. Like the goose sausage that was stuffed into the skin of the goose’s neck instead of classic sausage casing. Then that skin was browned in additional poultry fat.


Next month’s menu is cleverly called “Eat Like a Pig” in which Rob is going to forage ingredients the pastured pigs consume, and use those as accompaniments for different breeds of heritage pork. it sounds both totally unique and delicious.

These five course meals aren’t inexpensive, but they are truly special. You can’t get preparations like this anywhere else in the region. And I know that it feels like a hike.

The reality is that it’s just an hour outside of Albany.

Now here’s the kicker. Heather Ridge Farm seems more beloved by out-of-towners than locals. Yes, Deanna wrote a lovely piece on the place for the TU last year. And Albany Jane shared her experience at one of the farm’s dinners.

But the New York Times seems to have gotten the scoop with its glowing write up all the way back in 2010. More recently, Heather Ridge got some love from Forbes.

Last year Edible Manhattan covered this corner of our region, and wrote a story that included the farm and an event that was totally off my radar. Heather Ridge Farm lamb was on the menu at a restaurant down in Brooklyn that was proudly sharing the news

So should it be any wonder that when you look at the glowing Yelp reviews for Heather Ridge Farm, only one is from the Capital Region? Yes. One. To be fair, there aren’t a lot of reviews. However, three come from New York City, two come all the way from California, and the last is from Connecticut.

Tourists would seem to love and appreciate our local resources more than we do. It’s great that Heather Ridge Farm has a glowing reputation beyond our immediate community. But I’d love to find a way to get more locals out there to experience this for themselves. You would think a place with a national reputation would garner a bit more hometown pride.

Well, the cafe is open for weekend brunch from 11a to 3p all year long. The menu can be found here. And I’d highly recommend you consider the November dinner too. It will fill up, as the communal seating doesn’t allow for that many guests, so plan ahead and book early.

Just remember, If you do go, DO NOT UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES FOLLOW THE GPS/iPHONE/GOOGLE ROUTE. That’s a long, scary story, and maybe R of Chopsticks Optional will share it with you. She was a trooper, and an incredible co-pilot in the hill towns where cell phone service is non-existent. Instead, follow these directions from Carol.

Maybe after you go, you too can help spread the word.

Addendum: I was looking through my pictures of the dinner, and realized I should include at least one more. This was the five spice cake, topped with smoky duck fat caramel, and served with Grenada Chocolate Company ice cream. Good stuff.


6 Comments leave one →
  1. October 20, 2015 1:13 pm

    I am a summer resident about 10 minutes from Heather Ridge Farm and I love it. The food is amazing. The supper club while not inexpensive is wonderful. Carole and Chef Rob are the best.

  2. October 20, 2015 2:44 pm

    I spent my high school years not far from where Heather Ridge is, though it wasn’t in existence then. Well, it was a farm, but they weren’t doing dinners. Southern Albany County actually has a lot of wonderful places that are overlooked by the rest of the Capital Region. It makes me quite happy to see southern Albany County get some love finally, but it would be great to see it getting local love. It really isn’t that far a drive — it’s also pretty, and you don’t have to deal with the Thruway.

  3. October 21, 2015 4:12 pm

    It’s hard for me to talk about family farms because I get so passionate about them. Is it because they are often underdogs in the agribusiness monstrosity that America has created? Is it because my family were all farmers and now none of them are – not because they’re rubes, but because our laws make it almost impossible to be in the family farm business? Is it because we keep hearing that 500 family farms go under every month in America (or some other completely scary statistic)? I don’t know either. But from the bottom of my heart THANK YOU for talking about farms in your blog. I try to post the proverb: “No farms, no food”. Regularly to remind people of that simple fact. I’m always astonished that not very many people seem to get it. There’s so much more to write about our local fabulous farms and the foods they’re producing and I”m also really glad that you’re asking what the deal is with Albany restaurants and their frosty-to-non-existent relationship with local producers. Keep asking. I will too, and I’ll try not to get bombastic. Hopefully the other food bloggers who read your blog will too.

  4. October 22, 2015 5:41 am

    I’m really glad you were able to get out there, and I feel bad that I didn’t mention the GPS issue, which my photographer and I also had. (Note: It will take you up a steep hill, which is basically a dirt road that turns into what seems to be some old Native American foot trail that is likely now used for seasonal snowmobile use — at best.)

    HRF is amazing in so many ways, not just because of the food, but also because of the people. I’m continually impressed with Rob’s kitchen intuition and culinary adventurousness, and Carol is a role model for me in so many personal ways. If only the world had more Robs and Carols.

    Thank you, also, for the mentions. And for linking to my story. It was definitely one of my favorites that I wrote that year.

  5. Sima permalink
    October 22, 2015 11:39 am

    I am so glad that you visited Heather Ridge Farm. I always go there at least once or twice a year to stock up on their meat, chickens, and wonderful Oink and Moo Chili (they freeze it).

    We discovered the farm through their booth at the Saugerties Farmers Market several years ago. They always have some lunch items (such as the chili) and coolers full of various meats. Excellent ground lamb (we make “lamb burgers” with them) and sweet Italian sausages. Absolutely worth visiting if you can’t make it to their farm. One can even place an order and they will bring it along to the farmers market.

    Their booth also carries other local items (candles, soaps, etc.)

  6. October 26, 2015 2:38 am

    The big problem is that working directly with farms or artisans is very time consuming – mostly due to logistics and nobody has any time to spare in a restaurant kitchen. There are very standardized systems for ordering food for restaurants and most purveyors in our market either don’t offer local stuff, don’t inform you of its origin, sell sketchy ‘local stuff’, or the stuff really isn’t that local. Also – most farmers are not willing to come to your back door to sell you produce.

    There are exceptions to this.

    We just started working with a company (just this past week…one order so far) called Farms2Tables ( that essentially uses standard systems for restaurants to sell goods from local (NYS) farms. Theres a list of whats available and where its from and you simply order from the list and its delivered to you. Just like Dole & Bailey or Sysco. The stuff we received was fantastic and I am looking forward to ordering from them regularly.

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