By Annette Nielsen
Originally published January 8, 2013
Nestled in the bucolic hillsides of southern Washington County you’ll find the Tuscany of upstate New York. An easy drive from the Capital District, the many acres of farmland offer stellar representations of diverse agrarian pursuits — pastured poultry, bountiful vegetables, flocks of sheep, orchards filled with an amazing variety of fruits, artisanal and farmstead cheeses made from the milk of cows, goats, and sheep, maple producers , and heritage-breed cattle and pigs– and great stewards of the land like Karen Weinberg and Paul Borghard. Karen Weinberg and Paul Borghard are full-time farmers at 3-Corner Field Farm, a dairy sheep farm in Shushan, New York. They weren’t always farmers — Paul worked extensively in the corporate sector and Karen earned a PhD in industrial organizational psychology – but they left their urban lifestyle in the late 1980s and moved to Washington County with Karen’s childhood dream of having a farm. Through Paul’s work, Karen and Paul traveled and lived in France for a few years. While there, they ate great cheeses, and became fans of the long-time European tradition of using sheep’s milk for artisinal cheeses. They also became more aware of farm production methods, caring about how their food was grown or raised, and learned more about terrior, flavor married to place.
When they returned from France to Washington County, a neighbor gave Karen and Paul a couple of lambs to help keep down the farm’s fields around a stream bed. They came to really love these animals and appreciate sheep’s versatility in that they provide fiber, meat, and milk. Karen and Paul knew they didn’t want to raise animals in a confinement system, and wanted to ensure they used as much pasture for the sheep as possible. During seven to eight months of the year when grasses are exposed, they move fences every few days, allowing these ruminants to graze as they are naturally intended. Now, Karen and Paul milk approximately 140 East Friesan-cross ewes and pasture raise close to 400 lambs each year on over 100 acres of grass, clover and alfalfa, farming in a sustainable manner.
With their daughters Emily and Zoe, Karen and Paul mark the third family to produce natural goods from the land here since the farm was originally settled. At this family farm, the stately 1840s Greek Revival farmhouse shares the stunning setting with a trio of renovated red barns housing some chickens, farm equipment, a gleaming milking parlor and a sparkling cheese room. Another barn comes to life during shearing, then lambing season each spring; in autumn, the barn stores beautiful round bales of hay for winter use. The Farmhouse’s beautiful stone foundation provides the basement’s perimeter and recent transformation into an aging cellar for their sheep’s-milk cheeses.
Farming is truly a seven-day-a-week job on 3-Corner Field Farm, requiring constant care and attention. Paul and Karen divide the various chores with after school help from daughter Zoe, and from their daughter Emily, when she’s home from college. Paul milks the sheep, maintains equipment, tracks financials and payroll for their small staff, and implements alternative energy initiatives that help maintain the farm’s sustainability. Karen tends to the sheep on pasture employing rotational grazing, makes artisinal farmstead cheeses and yogurt, and direct markets their farm’s products to regional chefs and to an appreciative audience at Manhattan’s Union Square farmers’ market. Karen has taken the farmers’ market as an opportunity to answer customer questions, describing the farm and methods used to tend the flock and sharing the story of how their popular yogurt and cheeses are produced. Karen and Paul really know the animals, the land, and the people who purchase their product and carry with them a perspective and connection minimized on a large, factory farm operation.
Karen says, “Every part of farming in a sustainable manner is so gratifying. If it were a factory farm, things might be very predictable from one day to the next. The various parts of this job are so different; keeping the sheep on pasture, making cheese in the cheese room, and marketing in New York City. It’s more of an intellectual challenge than any other professional experience I’ve had. When you walk into the pasture and see all of the healthy lambs grazing on sustainable pasture, it’s a nice feeling, and when a customer tastes the cheese and says, ‘Boy, this is really good!’ it’s really rewarding. Here, I face issues of integrity – what’s done each day has a direct impact on other people and animals.”
Having cultivated a regular customer base of people who care about where their food comes from is gratifying for both parties, particularly for chefs who use the lamb in their culinary artistry. Karen says that working with chefs like David Pedinotti plays an important role. When locally sourced food from sustainable farms appears on restaurant menus, it spotlights this issue, presenting yet another opportunity to educate consumers.
David Pedinotti, executive chef and owner of One Caroline Street Bistro and The Mouzon House in Saratoga Springs, is one of 3-Corner Field Farm’s enthusiastic customers. He grew up knowing what good food tastes like. His grandparents raised most of their own food while living in Schenectady, even making sausages and curing their own meats.
“I’m a purist when it comes to my food,” says Pedinotti, “I’m carrying on my family’s legacy of using sustainable farms, and have an affinity for the superior flavors of pasture-raised meats. I use all sustainable agriculture sources, and that’s reflected in our seasonal menu.”
Pedinotti purchases four whole lambs each month from 3-Corner Field Farm, and uses a variety of their stellar cheeses and yogurt. He adds, “The food is impeccable, and so professionally produced on 3-Corner Field Farm – Karen is an excellent steward of the land. We all need to think about the way in which our food is produced. We reap so many benefits health-wise and environmentally by supporting sustainable farms.”
Karen and Paul make every effort to focus on the health and well being of the animals as well as the environment, treating both with respect. The meat and milk from the flock is produced naturally, and attention is given to the welfare of every animal, whether destined for meat or milk production. The ewes are only milked while on pasture, and members of the flock enjoy a life outdoors, instead of confined to a barn stall. The sheep provide the land with a natural fertilizer while grazing, all enhancing the quality of the soil. Karen and Paul’s increased use of solar energy and exploration of alternative energy sources means that natural resources are conserved. Using all of these low-input farming techniques ultimately results in more healthful and tasty food.
Dan Barber is the executive chef and owner of Blue Hill in New York City and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a Hudson Valley restaurant in Pocantico Hills. The Hudson Valley location has a working farm located within a few feet of its front door and the restaurant’s farm provides a source for many of the seasonally-inspired menu offerings. Barber purchases lamb from 3-Corner Field Farm and states, “The pasture raised animals, in tandem with local purchasing is beneficial – we get better tasting lamb than lamb which comes from conventional farming operations where the animals are raised on grain.”
In addition to having a great respect for sustainable farming operations, chef Barber enjoys the times when he is able to speak directly with Karen at the farmers’ market.
“I like the fact that she’s at the market and I’m able to have a conversation with her, fostering the cooperation between farmer and chef. I can pass along this information to the waiters and staff so that they can share the farm’s story with our customers” he says.
Karen has cultivated a very loyal customer base and engages her customers on the topic of how the animals are raised, dispensing delicious samples and providing recipes for using the various cuts of meat. She states, “It’s the opinion of our customers who purchase the meat, cheese, and yogurt that we raise and produce that’s so important. People have become more concerned about the source of their food,” emphasizes Karen, “they want to know how the animals are treated, what they’re fed, and to know how the sheep live their lives.” Caring about how our food was grown or raised, and finding the shortest path between great farm and fork makes for great cuisine. The generous spirit shown in the stewards of 3-Corner Field Farm makes the food taste that much better.
You can purchase products online, or at the farm (please call ahead to schedule a time)
1311 County Route 64, Shushan, NY 12873
Regional restaurants include: Max London’s Restaurant & Bar 518.587.3535, One Caroline Street Bistro 518.587.2026 and The Mouzon House 518.226.0014, all in Saratoga Springs; and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Potantico Hills, 914.366.9606.