A refreshing travel escape awaits in Saratoga Springs, New York with Organic farm tours and delicious farm-to-table meals from local restaurants.
I’m a fan of tacos and pizza, while my daughter has more refined tastes. Her latest passion is organic, farm-to-table cuisine. Over phone calls during the long winter in Saratoga Springs, New York, where she lives, she described numerous delicious dinners she prepared with fresh produce, meats, and breads purchased from local farmers’ markets and nearby farms.
Mothers may brag about their children eating vegetables, but it’s still a bit disconcerting to learn your daughter eats healthier than you. ‘Mom, I visited an organic farm today and came home with fresh kale and beets!’ she reported on a sunny day in mid-November before adding, ‘You should visit this farm with me.’
She was truly excited, and her enthusiasm was contagious, so I agreed to a spring trip to tour nearby organic farms, food stands, and farmers’ markets. We also planned to sample several restaurants in Saratoga Springs that offered farm-to-table dishes. When the time came, I flew into Albany International Airport and made the short drive to her home.
Organic and Artisanal Foods
With the growing emphasis on better health and nutrition and environmental sustainability, organic foods have become popular in recent years all over the country, and Saratoga Springs is no exception. Growers who meet specific criteria can request organic certification from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They must adopt organic standards and practices, including avoiding synthetic fertilizers and genetic engineering, and those practices must be verified by a certification agent. Some small farmers strive to meet the standards, but don’t have the official certification.
With more than 900 certified organic farms, New York State ranked third in the nation in the number of certified organic growers in a 2015 report produced by the New York State Comptroller’s office. The top products are organic milk and produce, and sales of organic meats are also trending up.
Agricultural tourism in New York State has been popular for decades with pick-your-own strawberry and pumpkin patches and tours of wineries, breweries, and distilleries. In recent years, farms have started catering to fans of organic and farm-fresh cuisine by offering tours of organic farms, farm stands, and farmers’ markets, observes Monika Roth, an agricultural development specialist with Cornell University’s Extension Service in Ithaca, New York. She also notes the growing number of farming bed-and-breakfast experiences and farm-to-table restaurants.
‘In previous decades, agritourism was for families,” Roth says. ‘Now we are seeing more adults on their own, sophisticated consumers, exploring more types of culinary tourism.’ She recommends Saratoga Springs as one of the top areas for food-related tourism in upstate New York along with Ithaca and Rochester.
Some food-oriented visitors just want to take quick strolls through organic farms or farmers’ markets, while others take advantage of more in-depth educational experiences, such as lessons taught by farmers on growing shitake mushrooms or heritage tomatoes. Others enjoy overnight stays at farms, with some offering luxury camping in tents secured on outdoor platforms.
Saratoga Springs, located about 35 miles north of Albany, is a popular destination with multiple spas, huge Victorian homes, shops, museums, a famous racetrack, and a vibrant restaurant scene that is one of the leaders in organic eating and the farm-to-table movement. The Saratoga Farmers’ Market opened in 1978 and attracts vendors from all over the region year-round.
In the bustling downtown area, more than two dozen eating establishments are considered ‘farm-to-table’ or ‘vegetarian friendly,” with atmospheres ranging from elegant to casual. The restaurants source a plethora of products from small and medium-sized farms nearby, including fresh produce and artisanal breads, cheeses, and meats.
This was all new to me, so I automatically turned to my phone for local pizzeria options for dinner the first evening. My daughter had a better idea: freshly-made pizza delivered from a nearby farm. I never imagined a farmer would excel at pizza making, but the pie arrived hot and bursting with locally-made mozzarella cheese, home-grown tomatoes and herbs, and a sourdough crust made with flour grown and milled in Ithaca. We made a picnic of it, savoring the exceptional flavor and freshness.
That was just the beginning. In the next three days, we visited a homemade ice cream shop called Dairy Häus, an organic vegetable farm, and a sheep farm offering homemade cheeses. I tasted a cider doughnut and purchased an organic chicken pot pie at Saratoga Farmers’ Market. We enjoyed amazing fresh salads at her favorite restaurant, and my daughter crafted sandwiches with crusty breads from a nearby farm stand for lunch each day.
I realized after the dessert dishes were pushed away on the last night that I had never been the best cook for my daughter. While still in her 20s, she was rapidly becoming a much better chef than me. I enjoyed our grand ‘foodie’ tour immensely, and I especially loved watching her take on the role of leader to my follower. Nibbling on organic cherry tomatoes and sipping local cider did a great job of bringing us closer together.
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