By Analiese Paik
In 2002 the Ubaldo brothers, John and Robert, started farming at their family home in Pound Ridge, NY where Robert continues to grow abundant vegetables today in 25 high-yielding raised beds. Each morning Chef Robert starts his work day by picking fresh vegetables for Farmer’s Table, his newly-opened eatery in New Canaan that’s one part cozy restaurant serving casual farm-to-table fare and one part farmers’ market.
Robert’s biggest supplier, outside of his own garden, is his brother John Ubaldo, aka John Boy, who left a successful career in the financial services industry in 2007 to become a full-time farmer of the old fashioned variety. John Boy and his 185-acre farm in Cambridge, NY have captured the hearts, and palates, of chefs and eaters dedicated to sourcing the highest quality local, sustainably grown, and humanely raised food and has been featured in GQ Magazine, The New York Times, and Westchester Magazine.
“Whatever gets eaten gets eaten. We don’t spray anything so we’re more organic than organic” was the no nonsense response John Boy gave to my question about his land care practices. I immediately sensed there would be no shades of gray in my conversation with this man who is easily considered one of the most sought after sustainable farmers in the area. Black and white feels good and safe sometimes, especially when it pertains to knowing your food and farmer.
When I asked how sustainable his business model is, a deadpan “From the Wall St. perspective my model is really flawed” fell from John Boy’s mouth. “It’s a ton of labor and expensive. I’ve never worked this hard in my life. There’s zero downtime.” Vacation? A recent weekend trip was the first time he’d had a vacation in years. Despite the endless work, it’s clear he loves what he does. “There’s an energy on the farm that I don’t think is fathomable. Plus I don’t like sitting down; it makes it hard to get up.”
Crop loss only partially explains why running a “beyond organic” or “naturalist” farm like John Boy’s is so expensive and labor intensive. John Boy elaborated: “We grow all of our own food for the animals from non-GMO corn and soy seed. We don’t use feeder farms to supply us. All our animals are born and raised on the farm. It’s rare to breed pigs on the farm. Pigs give birth at 2 am for 4-5 hours and I’m there for every birth. Keeping animals healthy is a 24/7 job.”
Call him a lunatic fringe farmer and you’ll be paying him a compliment. He knows he’s extreme and that’s the point. John Boy blames factory farms, where the animals are not cared for responsibly, for turning him into a “cranky, self-righteous farmer.”
According to Robert the two brothers had an epiphany one inclement morning last November as they waited at their Sunday farmers’ market stand in Pound Ridge for the regulars to show up to purchase Robert’s baked goods and soups and John Boy’s produce, poultry and meat products. “Why don’t we find a way to have a roof over our heads and let people buy from us every day?” thought Robert. When he heard the space on Forest Street had become available, Robert jumped at the lease and a plan to launch Farmer’s Table was hatched. Farmer’s Table brings together chef and farmer in a unique collaboration which offers diners straightforward yet distinct American fare sourced locally and sustainably. It wouldn’t be hard to image such a place existing 100 years ago.
A veteran of Tequila Mockingbird in New Canaan and Southwest Café in Ridgefield, Chef Robert’s love of Southwestern food shone through in our lunch of black bean soup rich with earthy and smoky chorizo, tender and flavorful chile-spiced Berkshire pork tacos, and plump chicken pesto with roasted garden vegetable quesadillas. Toasted 100% organic house-baked whole wheat bread with a surprisingly light texture accompanied the soup and glistening seafood chowder where lobster, shrimp and scallops were the main ingredient. Muffins and two to three types of breads are baked fresh twice daily because “some people like to come in just to buy a hot loaf of bread” explained Robert.
The farmers’ market in a restaurant concept brought to life at Farmer’s Table means area consumers can enjoy John Boy’s “beyond organic” vegetables, humanely raised certified Berkshire pork, Aberdeen Angus beef, chicken, duck, goose, turkey, quail, squab and artisan smoked meats including bacon, sausage, pepperoni and chorizo in meals deftly prepared by Chef Robert six days a week. And they can also buy local produce and meats from John Boy’s Farm and select Connecticut farms for meals to be prepared at home. But don’t expect that Brother Robert will be getting preferential treatment from Brother John when it comes to allocating scarce, high-demand products. “Are you kidding, he always shorts me on the pork chops” quipped Robert. No matter, the prized house-made Berkshire pork pate will hold you until next time.
If you want to “follow” John Boy and perhaps procure one of his Thanksgiving turkeys from Farmer’s Table, it’s best to sign up for his e-newsletter which currently reaches over 2,000 and boasts an incredible 40% open rate. Email email@example.com and ask to be added to the distribution list. According to John Boy “Last Thanksgiving we sold 120 turkeys and expect to do 200 this year. Size will depend on mother nature.” John Boy’s newsletter is one of the few that I always open because I know something he’s written will make me laugh or smile, including a good rant or tale of farm animal antics. John Boy reported in a recent email blast that “My mother is a new sign up this week since she has found out this is the best way to find out what is going on in my life.”
On Sundays John Boy’s Farm participates in the farmers’ markets at Muscoot Farm in Somers, NY and also in Pound Ridge. Wednesdays he makes deliveries to restaurants and stores including Farmer’s Table, Gates, Tequila Mockingbird, Walter Stewart’s Market, North Star Restaurant in Scotts Corners and the Farmhouse at Bedford Post Inn, actor Richard Gere’s award-winning farm-to-table restaurant in Bedford, NY.
Farmer’s Table, Chef/Owner Robert Ubaldo, 21 Forest Street, New Canaan. 203-594-7890, Open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 am until 10pm. Closed Sundays.