Nestled in the lush Hudson River Valley, Laura and Fabio Ferrara run the only organic apple orchard in New York state. Hyper-local, uber-holistic and community-driven, a visit to Westwind Orchard is one of those lovely local agricultural experiences that makes you long for days gone by. Luckily, with so many of us hankering for the benefits of locally-grown food and the sense of community that surround it, Westwind and farms like it are becoming as fashionable a destination as any of New York’s more metropolitan hotspots.
Athena Calderone, the stylish designer behind the aptly named and visually-stunning blog Eye Swoon recently spent the day on the orchard with the Ferraras, picking apples, wandering the grounds and cooking up a storm. We’re sharing Athena’s interview with this fascinating agri-couple – who exchange their farm gear for fashion when in the city (Laura is an editor and Fabio a photographer) – plus, a feast for the eyes as we follow Athena and friends for a day on this all-American farm. Get your fix of rural bliss and plan a visit for yourself to Fabio and Laura’s u-pick farm and shop full of local honeys and jams – the perfect way to spend a fall morning, if you ask us. Stay tuned later this week as we share Athena’s jaw-droppingly gorgeous recipe for Westwind-grown delicata squash!
Athena Caldrone: Can you briefly tell me how and when the farm came to be?
The Ferraras: We bought the farm in 2001 with little intent to actually farm, we just loved the property. Everything was overgrown, a lot of the trees were dead. It had not been tended to in 10 years. Fabio became determined to learn how rejuvenate the trees ad see what he could save – he taught himself about pruning and nurturing the trees back to life.
Now we grow apples, raspberries, pumpkins, garlic, summer and winter squash, tomatoes, onions and keep bees and chickens to produce honey and eggs.
AC: What was the learning curve like?
TF: We are still learning everyday. We are certified organic, but our approach to tending the land and trees goes far beyond organic. We’ve learned to diversify: we planted different type of fruit, berries, winter squash and more. There is definitely a learning curve with agriculture and farming, especially with the world climate changing.
AC: You are the only organic apple orchard and one of the only organic farms in upstate NY. What is the process of growing organically?
TF: The reason we are the only organic apple orchard is because the weather is not favorable for growing organic apples in upstate NY. It rains a lot and it’s very humid. Our approach is to make the trees so strong and healthy that they fight the elements with little human help. We look into minerals, micro-nutrients and more. We think of an unhealthy tree as we do an unhealthy human being, but we don’t use any antibiotics, just natural and holistic remedies!
AC: Can you share with me some specifics about the products you sell? How have you learned to make your honey, jams, syrup and vinegar? Trial & error? Instinct? Research?
TF: All of the above! We are always playing with different flavors and ingredients, learning how best to make use of our resources, looking to family recipes and remixing everything we grow on the farm. We love to collaborate with our friends who have a dairy: we provide them with our fruits and honey in order the make the most amazing farm gelato! Both of us are from Italy, gelato is in our DNA.
AC: Did either of you grow up growing your own vegetables?
TF: I [Laura] was born on a farm in Italy. When I moved to the United States my mother grew all of our vegetables in a garden in the backyard of our house in Brooklyn. At one point we even had chickens!
I [Fabio] grew up 3 months out of the year in a little village in the mountains 2 hours from Rome. My parents always grew veggies, but I was never very interested. Now, the Italian culture of food, family, love, and passion is our top priority. It has been instilled in us through generations and plays a large part in our life on the farm.
AC: How often do you gather with friends to cook? Your home usually the hub of entertaining.
TF: Yes, because seasonally we have friends and family that come to visit the farm and stay in the barn, we usually go out into the garden and pick what is available which results in a constant food fest. Butternut squash soup is always popular, BBQ with our own pork and chicken and omelettes with veggies and herbs from the garden. Being Italian, garlic and onions are our base for just about everything!
AC: Things you’d be lost without in the kitchen:
TF: Kitchens sometimes have so many gadgets which I don’t believe in … for me just a sharp knife and sturdy pots and pans, cutting board and a mandolin.
I have a lot of beautiful pots and pans but my favorites are the Lodge Wrought Iron – classic , chic, and inexpensive. And my Staub cookware.
AC: Let’s discuss the barn. Can you tell me the story behind it’s renovation?
TF: This barn was actually featured in the NY Times. It was built in the 1800’s. We had it dismantled and each piece was numbered. The structure was put back together and then we filled it with new construction.
AC: Would you share with us about the community of craftsman you have met through the farm?
We are really a mom and pop operation: small batch, home-made, home-grown and picked fresh. We only use local builders any time we have projects and the farm is run by us and, recently, a full time farmer. We are hands-on. That is really what gives us satisfaction. You don’t have a child and have someone else nurture and raise him – you would miss all out on that love and life are about!
Can you tell us what dress she’s wearing? The blue one with the open back….It’s stunning!