With a name like Field & Larder, this black-dirt farm in Chester, New York is on a mission to provide you with tasty produce you can enjoy all year long.
Meet the farmer behind Field & Larder
Charles from Field & Larder is what I would call a “chef’s gardener”. He provides all foodies with organic, healthy vegetables while lending diversity to your dinner plate. As a chef, I plan menus with seasonal ingredients from local farms as much as possible. I’m always looking for unique, diverse local ingredients that fit seamlessly into a meal. Field & Larder fits the bill when it comes to this mind set.
It all started when Charles worked in the kitchen at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, CA alongside famed chef Alice Waters, Charles drew inspiration from their hyper-seasonal menu that focused on premium local ingredients. During this time, he met the farmers that dropped off the daily produce to the back door of the kitchen. A fledgling inspiration soon sparked into a professional endeavor.
Charles went on to learn the basics of small-scale, organic farming just outside of Austin, TX. He harnessed that knowledge to move to New York City, where he landed a job at Atera, a two-Michelin star restaurant. For three years, he managed their hydroponic garden, worked as a food buyer and prepared the herb garnishes.
Atera’s strict attention to detail and exceptional flavor of ingredients took root in Charles. In 2016, he left the city on a new mission: to eventually run his own farming business. This led him to Obercreek Farm in the Hudson Valley. Charles managed the farm with a CSA, an onsite farm stand, wholesale accounts with natural food stores, and a farmers market stand in Brooklyn. With all this experience under his belt, Charles finally opened Field & Larder.
How to produce tasty produce
The short answer is black dirt. The long answer is hard work, strict growing practices and a commitment to organic farming.
Field & Larder farms on three acres of land with a greenhouse at the Chester Agricultural Center in Chester, NY. As soon as you pull up to Field & Larder, you can see the soil is jet black, unlike the soils found on most other farms. Black dirt is excellent for growing vegetables. Here’s why.
Most organic farmers aim for an average organic nutrient content of 7-8% in their dirt. That’s the minimum needed to grow nice vegetables. When Charles first tested the organic nutrient content at Chester Agricultural Center, he found it was nearly 33% in one field and 38% in another field. This is why his vegetables taste so good!
Field & Larder is farmed on land that has some of the most fertile soil in the country. How did this happen in the Hudson Valley? The first Dutch Settlers in Chester were faced with swampy land. You can’t grow vegetables in a swamp, so they solved the problem by placing soil from the region on top of the swamplands. This unique combination made the soil very rich. If you visit Field & Larder, you’ll see long troughs of water that run alongside the fields. This works as a great irrigation system to constantly feeds nutrients to the soil.
Crop rotation is also an important part of Field & Larder’s farming practices. This enhances the complexity of the nutrient-dense soil even more. Crop rotation is integral to a successful harvest. It is a method of choosing where to plant vegetables each year. Planting the same thing in the same spot every year drains the nutrients from the soil that each type of plant needs to thrive. Rotating crops takes less of a toll on the soil’s nutrients. It also keeps pests and weeds on their toes, reducing the chance of developing resistant pest and weeds that can destroy crops altogether.
Charles is also big on cover cropping. Field & Larder grows some plant life mainly to boost the soil rather than for harvesting. The method of cover cropping keeps weeds at bay, helps manage erosion, improves soil fertility and wards off crop disease. Cover cropping is one of the best ways to promote biodiversity.
Field & Larder is proud of doing things by hand, the old-fashioned way. With few machines to do the work for him, Charles relies on vegetables with a longer harvest season to keep the workload manageable, such as ever-bearing strawberries, pole beans and intermediate tomatoes.
The attention to detail at Field & Larder touches everything they do. Even the materials they use to grow the vegetables are carefully chosen. Charles is committed to using as much reusable material as possible, such as biodegradable plastic mulch for their field crops. Sisal twine and compostable clips come in handy for trellising his tomatoes. Everything goes into the compost pile, not the garbage.
In the field
Charles mentioned during our interview that he likes growing vegetables that fit into everyday meals while giving shoppers the opportunity to try something new. One of his favorite ingredients is an heirloom tomato called Cannestrino di Lucca, which is similar to the Roma tomato. However, since the Cannestrino is an heirloom variety, that means the flavor has been refined from seeds passed down for hundreds of years.
You can enjoy a slice a Cannestrino di Lucca fresh off the vine, but the real prize is when they are canned to preserve them for months after the season ends. Because it’s a meaty tomato with few seeds, Cannestrino is great for canning. And the flavor is just out of this world. You can really taste the love and hard work Charles puts into growing them.
Let’s talk about the sprouting cauliflower next. This is no ordinary cauliflower. Field & Larder’s sprouting cauliflower matches the deliciousness of regular cauliflower, but it’s less clunky when it comes to plating. It is quite beautiful, like a flower, with a long stem that bursts with little white florets. I love grilling sprouting cauliflower until it’s deeply caramelized. Toss with lime juice, colatura di alici (Italian fish sauce) and espelette pepper, and you’ve got something really special. The sharpness of the lime juice and saltiness of the colatura di alici really bring out the cauliflower’s flavor.
Next up, we have badger flame beets! Yes, I know, kind of a funny name for a beet. Badger flame beets are yellow, with all the sweetness of a red beet, minus that strong earthiness you get from ordinary beets. Originally bred by Row 7, they were cultivated for this unique flavor. Charles has a great selection of badger flame beets. What is a great ingredient without a great recipe to go along with it? Farm2ChefsTable has a beautiful Cast Iron Roasted Beet with Celery, Rhubarb Mostarda & Crème Fraiche. Simply substitute the red beet for a badger flame beet, and you’ll have a wonderful appetizer or lunch.
If you love strawberries as much as I do, then you’ll love the ever-bearing strawberries grown by Field & Larder. Charles takes a labor-of-love approach to growing organic strawberries. It’s all about the details. He carefully removes the flowers from the strawberry bush so the bush grows larger and bears more fruit. This is a very labor intensive job. Doing so allows the strawberries to grow for a longer time.
Strawberries are usually a late spring, early summer treat. Not the case with ever-bearing strawberries. Their season starts in late July until September. The same plant flushes multiple times during the season, hence the name “ever-bearing”. While they require more work than the average strawberry, the proof is in the taste.
Much more than a farmer, Field & Larder is our neighbor
Field & Larder offers his vegetables through a mini CSA. CSA stands for community-supported agriculture. This is a great way to support local business while eating healthy. You pay an initial fee at the beginning of the growing season, which gives you access to a whole season of vegetables, often several months’ worth.
Field & Larder also partners with Fareground to donate food to neighboring communities in need. Their “Pay it Forward” produce box ensures everyone has healthy, clean food to eat. You can participate by buying a produce box to guarantee your neighbors in need are getting they help they deserve.