NORTH SALEM, N.Y. -- Since the first Thanksgiving dinner in 1621 was farm-to-table, members of the North Salem 4H Club thought it made perfect sense to get a hands-on lesson about farm-to-table food.
Assembled by 4H adviser Steve Mulligan, club members and friends were treated Sunday to a tour of the grounds of Purdys restaurant Farmer & the Fish, with a discussion led by owners Edward Taylor, founder of Down East Seafood, and Michael Kaphan, executive chef.
Farmer and the Fish, which serves locally grown food and top quality seafood, recently received a “Don’t Miss” rating from The New York Times. It opened in the early spring at the Purdys Homestead, an 18th century house on Titicus Road backed by 23 acres of land where a terraced garden provides 80 percent of the restaurant's produce and ingredients at peak season.
Kaphan, who studied agriculture at SUNY Cobleskill, oversees the farm, while Taylor, a North Salem resident, is in charge of supplying fresh fish. As a chef, Kaphan said, “I come in contact with so much great product and I wanted to see where it comes from.” Sustainable farming, he said, has environmental, economic and health benefits, which include limiting greenhouse gases, replenishing natural resources and reducing the overall cost of agricultural production.
While its hillside location makes farming somewhat difficult, European-style terracing helps, as do sustainable practices like using fish byproducts as fertilizer and as a component of the farm’s irrigation system; however, Kaphan said, Hurricane Sandy did cause some failed crops this year, despite all best efforts. “Some things you can't control, like the hurricane blowing down your broccoli,” said Kaphan.
According to North Salem High School sophomore and 4H club vice president Emory Nager, the USDA-chartered club has about 45 people ages 6 to 17 and its membership is steadily growing. Ten-year-old Violet Coyle, a new member, attended Sunday’s farm-to-table event with mom Heather Coyle. Violet said she loves animals and has three chickens at home, among other pets.
The members of North Salem's 4H club do community service projects, take field trips and raise community awareness about environmental issues, including, Nager said, lobbying for funding for the Westchester Cornell Cooperative Extension, which sponsors all 4H clubs in the area.