Farm to College: Spotlight on Winter Sun Farms

Winter Sun Farms LogoFor Jim Hyland of Farm to Table CoPackers, the decision to start 7 years ago, “was on a whim. I eat, which is why I started this.” Hyland’s spur of the moment decision to start freezing produce for his neighboring farmers in New Paltz has morphed into nearly 30 employees working to preserve the bounty of summer.

Whether it be to freeze, to pickle, or to make soups or sauces - Farm to Table is our local co-packer working with local farms.

Currently housed in the former kitchens of the former IBM Tech City outside of Kingston, Hyland is looking to become the food hub for the Hudson Valley - a place where thousands of pounds of fresh produce from Hudson Valley farms are preserved in his facility and then sent all over the country. Over 30 private labels use Hyland’s facility to pack and process their products - labels such as Rick’s Picks, Hudson Valley Harvest, Super Seedz and more. Bard receives frozen produce and prepared sauces made from local farms under Hyland’s private label: Winter Sun Farms.

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Hyland shared many thoughts as we toured his facility:

As Winter Sun started to grow we found that there was no infrastructure for this, for what we were trying to do. No one was setup to work with small farms - so this [facility] opened 4 years ago - and we have been growing from there.

The more volume we can pull through here the more secondary things we can do. We literally ran green beans the other day for Winter Sun - so we had about 2500 lbs of green beans. We ran three other batches of green beans for small farms that day: Conuco Farm, Evolutionary Organics, and Millers Crossing. Millers had about 500 lbs, the other two had about 200 lbs each - but we put them on the back of a run and were able to pack them up. You know, it is a small amount of packing but no one is doing it, no one would ever consider doing it. But because of the volumes we have we can slot that stuff easily.

The fact that we buy from Hugeunot Street Farm, say 325 lbs of tomatoes, that is not a lot. It doesn’t seem to be an important thing, but you know the farmers made an extra $120 bucks or whatever it was, and they only had to drop it off at my house. We try to do these things that help the mission.

But it’s really driven by how efficient we can be, the equipment, and that institutional market. We work with the farms to see how they pack it, how they produce, how we can most efficiently transport. We are never going to be the cheapest on the ground. We don’t want to be the cheapest. We don’t want to have the race to the bottom. There are legitimate price concerns, and how do we work within that, and how do we show to you that what you are paying has that value.

Perhaps you just helped us create 50 jobs or 25 jobs. Those jobs are right in your backyard. These farms are right there.

Prepping okra for Rick's Picks Smokra.

The farms are right here. Winter Sun preserves and freezes produce from a dozens of Hudson Valley Farms; here is a small sampling: Greig, Migliorelli, Talieferro, Shaul, Miller’s Crossing, Davenport Farm, Gill Farm, etc etc.

As the harvest season winds down, look for signs showcasing the farmers via Winter Sun Farms.

Cheers to knowing where our food comes from!

Farm to School is a series that highlights the sourcing of Bard College and The New School. These are written as part of my role as the Food Sustainability Advocate with Chartwells.

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Portrait of an Artist: Chef Jason Hook

The heavy lifting side to cooking - sliding a bone saw through a 200-pound quarter of beef, for example - belies the regal decadence of the art in the final product. Perfectly balanced orbs of color, texture, flavor and elegance arrive to your table. Removed from the blood of the animal and the dirt of the soil as diamonds from carbon.

Chef Jason Hook is comfortable with both sides of this kitchen coin. The same arms that wrestle to break down a halved hog also create foam of the lightest air to grace a perfectly composed plate. I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Hook, recently of the Glasbern Inn, a young chef whose enthusiasm for food as both "sustainable" and as an "theatrical experience" was rivaled only by my awe of his energy, plans, accomplishments (check out his book!), and comfort with all facets of the food experience.

Hook's experience is dizzying - just thinking about it conjures up whirlwind images of late nights, sharp knives, sousvide bags, and the furrowed brows of cooking luminaries. He started his culinary travels in the kitchen of Le Bec Fin in Philadelphia for his first taste of French Cuisine, where he was shortly recruited to The Four Seasons in New York. After a short stint in The Four Seasons in Paris, he returned to NYC, joined Lespinasse, then worked under Alain Ducasse and Jean Georges, before leaving the city to captivate diners with his skills from Reading PA to Providence RI.

One of the many reviews I found was from his time as chef at Dan's Restaurant in The New York Times, "Hook demonstrates exceptional talent for marrying flavors and highlighting natural tastes, from foie gras with roasted white peaches and fresh honeycomb to tilapia with truffles and golden chanterelles." You can also see him in this Fox Providence video from his time at Cafe Nuovo making roasted halibut.

This summer Chef Hook has been holding "pop-up" dinners in the Lehigh Valley as he lays the groundwork for starting his own restaurant.

His latest pop-up was held on August 17. Fern Hall hosted Hook for his "celebration of summer corn from Ships-Holmes Farms." Hook created 13 courses and every course had corn "in different textures. You can't beat corn in this area right now ... and plus it sounds interesting ... when you can translate a dessert into corn ... like corn cob creme brulee, which is what we did."

According to Hook, Ships-Holmes Farms started right after WWII and has been in the same spot for over 60 years, "and so I asked him what his secret is and the farmer said to me, "cow shit! But that is exactly what it is!" Hook grinned, continuing. Pop-up farm dinners "shows off the farm and shows off the craftsmanship of the farmer and I like that."

"You try to use the product that it is at its peak ... how can you mess up corn harvested that day ... when you are using a pudding with a sea scallop flown in that day with summer truffles and a lobster sauce you just made ... I mean, how can you mess that up? That is what is fun. How can you mess that up?"

Indeed.

Hook is partnering with other restauranteurs, farmers, and "the right people in the Valley that have a deep appreciation for art," to open his restaurant in Lehigh Valley (while continuing to do pop-up dinners). I look forward to visiting when it is open!

Here is the article on Real Time Farms!