Eat, Plant, and Learn to Love Good Food at Katchkie Farm
By Betsy Miller
Liz Neumark, CEO of Great Performances, a catering company based in New York City, had been catering for more than two decades when she took to joining CSAs, and gradually fell in love with locally-grown produce. “For the first time in my life,” she says, “I knew what garlic and potatoes were supposed to taste like.”
“Being in the food business, I’d watched food become nothing but a commodity,” she explains. “It flew in the face of the passion for the tastes and flavors associated with fresh food.” She’d always dreamed of owning a farm. (“It’s in my Russian genes,” she says.) So, in 2006, after searching in New Jersey and throughout the Hudson Valley, Liz bought 60 acres of long-unfarmed land in northwest Columbia County and created Katchkie Farm.
“Katchkie is Yiddish for duck, used as a term of endearment by generations of discerning Jewish mothers and grandmothers,” Neumark says. “My son is handsome; he looks nothing like a duck. But I had promised him that my next project would be named for him. His name is Sam! For fun, I tell people it’s the name of an American Indian tribe. No one has questioned it!”
Great Performances uses most of the farm’s harvest, fresh-feeding not only their private wedding and event clients, and corporate clients as well. Guests at venues such as Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola at Lincoln Center and the ballroom event spaces at the revamped Plaza Hotel reap the benefits.
“In catering work, we see the most privileged and fortunate New Yorkers, but a lot of our neighbors have never seen the kind of food we routinely serve,” says Neumark. “So we conceived of an education facility that has become the heart of the farm, as a way to balance the abundance in our lives. .”
Working in conjunction with farm manager Bob Walker, Neumark “shares the wealth” through the Sylvia Center, a nonprofit organization that advocates farm education and children’s nutrition through year-round programs held in a Children’s Learning Kitchen in lower Manhattan, in schools and community centers throughout New York City, and at Katchkie Farm itself. After-school programs teach students about where their food comes from, how it is grown, and how to cook delicious simple meals with seasonal, local produce. Katchkie also hosts farm visits for grade school children from throughout New York State, who plant in the Children’s Garden and learn about eating healthful foods.
On July 16, the Sylvia Center will be a beneficiary of the third annual Farm-To-Table al fresco dining event at Katchkie Farm. As always, a team of chefs from Great Performances will do the cooking on site. Participants will eat at tables set up in the same field where much of the menu—ricotta-stuffed zucchini blossoms, heirloom tomato and summer bean salad, mini-eggplant parmesan tarts with tomato sauce and hand-pulled mozzarella, Hudson Valley skirt steak over quick braised kale with sweet onions—was grown. Auxiliary producers such as Local Ocean, a fresh and salt water fish farm in nearby Hudson, and Hudson-Chatham Winery keep the mileage from farm-to-table at a minimum and the freshness at a maximum.
This year, proceeds from the dinner will be divided evenly between the Columbia Land Conservancy and the Sylvia Center, thus nurturing both future farms and future farmers. “When everyone is seated together at this event, the sense of community is almost overwhelming,” concludes Neumark. “A transformation takes place that night; we shed our other skins and just become neighbors.”
Katchkie Farm-to-Table Dinner
Saturday July 16, 5 p.m.