Life and Salad Greens: a Winter Visit to Sky Farm

Staci Strauss

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Last week on a freezing late-winter day, we sat down with Sky Farm’s owner Chris Regan and his partner Ashley Mayne and we talked about life and salad greens.

In this beautiful setting, overlooking the dormant, snow covered fields and the mountains beyond, we talked about how the isolation of the farming life truly fuels the creative spirit.

Chris has been growing salad greens, more than 30 varieties, in Columbia County, New York for over 15 years. Ashley, a writer and musician, became part of Sky Farm several years ago, when the two became a couple.

They live near Millerton, New York, close to acreage where they grow the beautiful greens they sell to area restaurants and in farmers’ markets. These super fresh, rich in variety, chemical-free, delicious bags of Chris’greens are always on the list on market day. I usually open the bag and snack on them while I’m shopping.

One thing that makes Chris so different from a lot of the farmers we interview is that he is a visualist. Oh sure, his greens are pesticide free, organic, yada yada, yada, but what strikes me most when dressing a bowl of these greens is how pretty they are.

Last year, Craig and I did an Indiegogo campaign to raise money for our ongoing food films project. We have been shooting short films about real food people for over ten years, and Sky Farm was a story we told when we first came to the Hudson Valley eight years ago. Over the years, the farm has grown and changed as all things do, and it became clear to us that we needed to return to Sky Farm and tell an updated story. The completed short film will be the first of three we produce with the funds that were so generously contributed during our campaign’s run.

Let me say it is really different visiting the farm in the winter. The sun was maddeningly bright shining on the snow covered fields, and their dog Loukka was slipping and sliding on the ice as we made them trudge through the snow, take after take, to get support footage for the interview we then shot in an artists’ loft overlooking the hoop houses.

The cameras set, we interviewed each of them, asking about life on the farm, the things that are most challenging, the things they love best. It is a philosophical time, winter on the farm, the tasks are different, mending equipment, poring over seed catalogues, and getting ready to begin the more frenetic summer days of growing thousands of pounds of perfect greens and delivering them to the back door of the best restaurants in the Hudson Valley.

Chris spends most of his time during the growing season on the back of his tractor. Ashley is on the trucking side, as she laughingly calls it, driving the van loaded with greens all over the lush valley, to Hudson, Rhinebeck, Woodstock and many others, including restaurants in Connecticut–a short five miles from Millerton.

One thing that makes Chris so different from a lot of the farmers we interview is that he is a visualist. Oh sure, his greens are pesticide free, organic, yada yada, but what strikes me most when dressing a bowl of these greens is how pretty they are. You can tell Chris is a painter when you see all these different varieties, dancing along in the same bowl. Some sweet, some tender, some bitter, some crisp–these greens do not disappoint all those who need to photograph their food before they eat it. And they are tasty, too.

It was a pleasure talking with Ashley–a real delight. We’ve gotten to know one another at the markets–both Woodstock and Rhinebeck, and she is a terrific complement to the enterprise. A writer, she basks in the privacy that farm life allows to think, to write, to hike in the woods with her dog, and basically weave her short stories. The long days in the van provide her with the opportunity to daydream, to listen to audiobooks, and oh yeah, deliver greens. Lots of them. Too many restaurants to list. I am glad to see their reappearance each spring at our local watering hole, Cucina.

Sky Farm Salad. Yay! When we see this offering on Gianni’s spring menu, we know winter’s finally over. So here I sit in on a quiet Monday morning in Woodstock, the day after we all sprang forward–and the ground is still covered with snow. But when I go into the editing room and see Craig firing through the support footage we shot last summer and fall at Sky Farm, the green flourishing bits that will illustrate the story told in the dead of winter, I remember. The greens are coming!

Do you miss fresh salads?

Photo credit: Staci Strauss