A farm tour of Chautauqua county this weekend, organized and led by Feed Your Soul founder and Buffalo Spree Food Editor Christa Glennie Seychew, brought the region’s incredible farm scene to life for forty-five Buffalonians with a visit to a cider mill, two family farms, and a winery, as well as two farm-to-table dinners by Western New York’s most renowned chefs.
“This is the 5th anniversary of this tour, and it’s absolutely my favorite event of the year,” said Seychew at the start of the tour. Seychew’s company advancing the local food movement, called Feed Your Soul, hosted the all-day event.
We began in Jamestown At Busti Cider Mill, where we had the chance to see an old-fashioned cider mill and press that the owners, Bob and Judi Schulz, moved from Syracuse 30 years ago and use to this day. It was amazing watching the machine in action, and the accompanying cider was very tasty.
From there we headed to Green Heron Growers, which was a high point of the tour and one of the coolest spots I’ve found in the area.
Founders Julie and Steve Rockcastle use their stunning site for organic produce, a shiitake mushroom garden, and grass-fed cattle. After the tour, Bruce Wieszala, sous chef at Carmelo’s in Lewiston and famed charcuterie king, prepared a picnic lunch of beef and mushroom burgers and peach cobbler made almost entirely from the farm’s ingredients (the burger buns were made by Pastry Chef Ellen Gedra of Bistro Europa and the cheese on the burgers came from Nickel City Cheese and Mercantile, both local businesses). A thoroughly stuffed and happy tour group then took the opportunity to shop at the farm store.
We were on to Ashville, New York, where Jef Creager and Karen Kearney raise poultry on Good Grass Farm, another lovely property.
The happy, passionate couple and their cute toddler, Elsa, took our group to meet their chickens and turkeys while they discussed responsible farming. “What motivates me is the goal of growing the best food possible,” said Creager. “I know everything that goes into these chickens, everything that happens to them, and I know that that’s the best way to do it. That’s what makes it worthwhile.”
Before dinner, we stopped for a tasting at Johnson Estate Winery. Our group was greeted with a glass of sparkling traminette in the vineyard and a presentation by Fred Johnson, who took over the family business less than two years ago after a career in agriculture took him around the world. His story of the family’s decision to make wine, fifty years ago, resembled that of many Lake Erie wineries: a desire to branch out from the business of growing table grapes for giant companies and create an artisan product to be sold on the estate.
We viewed the tasting room and cellar and then tasted five wines, which co-owner Jennifer Johnson selected for us on the basis that they were all gold-medal winners. The dry 2011 Riesling and accompanying semi-dry version were nicely balanced and my favorites of the bunch. Explaining that Lake Erie was too far north to ripen Bordeaux varietals like cabernet and merlot, the Johnsons also poured us their Long Island–sourced cabernet sauvignon. Finally, they announced that they will be premiering the first sparkling, methode champanoise ice wine in North America––I look forward to trying it upon my next visit. A lovely plate of cheeses, dried fruits, and marechal foch grapes was a nice accompanying snack for our tasting.
We capped off the tour with a meal at the Chautauqua Institution’s beautiful Athenaeum Hotel, where Chef Ross Warhol, who was recently awarded a James Beard dinner and is one of the region’s most accomplished chefs despite his mere 24 years of age, prepared our farm-to-table meal.
Green Heron Growers beef tartare with an egg yolk, washed down with a Southern Tier Porter, was a highlight for me, as was an heirloom tomato salad with garlic custard and herbed croutons paired with Southern Tier 2XIPA. I have dined at the Athenaeum twice and found Chef Warhol’s food to be incredibly balanced in texture, beautifully arranged, and celebratory of the region’s rich farming community.
The tour was a striking and inspiring look at the bounty of our region and a chance to make personal connections with local farmers. I’m already planning on coming back for Green Heron Growers’s class on growing mushrooms at home, and I have a revamped shopping list for the city farmer’s markets. I never cease to be inspired and amazed by tour organizer Christa Glennie Seychew’s events––they’re always fun, organized to the last detail, and a joy for both attendees and participating businesses. I highly recommend next year’s tour, and all Feed Your Soul events, to Western New York lovers of local.