As I write this, I am sitting in the back seat of the Lincoln Town Car that met me at my front door on what is a quiet crisp Fall Saturday morning. Driving down the concrete streets I walk on daily and past all of my neighborhood grocery stores toward the Queensboro Bridge, I find myself internalizing the significance of the day that lays before me. Those grocery stores, stocked with every ingredient you could possibly think of, have for as long as I remember been packaging their lettuce from Satur Farm. Which also means, I’ve been eating food, developing recipes with and enjoying this Satur Farm lettuce for years. Perhaps you’ve guessed it by now, I’m en route to Satur Farm to see it first hand and experience its riches for myself.
Pause. Live life. Explore.
It’s now a little over three hours later and I’m back in that Lincoln Town Car filled with so much more experience, amazing food, sauvignon blanc, and espresso. Let’s delve into it all, that is why you are reading this, after all. My first car ride left me at the windowed front door of Satur Farm founders Paulette Satur and Chef Eberhard Müller. Walking in, I took off my boots and entered into a space that looked like it was straight from the pages Architectural Digest, you know, one I would have earmarked and labeled “life goals”. The tall narrow windows acted in one direction as vignettes out onto the farmland and in the other as portals allowing light to cascade in. This is the kind of lighting you get with ample space around you. Churches get this kind of directional light, Manhattan apartments that are not billion dollar penthouses don’t often have this ethereal feel. I mingled with my hosts as we waited for a few other writers to arrive. Once all there, our intimate group of a total of eight people sat down to a vegan bean, chickpea, carrot and romanesco lunch with a red wine poached pear dessert that was prepared by the hands of Chef Eberhard Müller with the majority of the vegetables coming from their farm. It was over this incredible meal, and a bottle of 2013 Jamesport Vineyard's sauvignon blanc, that we were able to discuss the origins of Satur Farms which also shares a lot of common ground with the beginning of their relationship.
“We met, married and bought the farm all in the same year…1998” Paulette noted.
“1996” Chef Eberhard Müller corrected.
“That’s how I met him, I tried to sell him wine”
In Chef Eberhard Müller having been the Executive Chef at Lutèce, Le Bernardin, and Bayard, and Paulette Satur having grown up on a family farm and having had great success in the wine industry, they joined forces not only in terms of their relationship status but also in business and spearhead the concept of having full control of the ingredients they were using, bought land in the North Fork and began their own farm. In today’s society, we are so accustomed to the term “farm-to-table” and think of it as almost synonymous with high-end dining, seasonal eating, and chef-driven cuisine. Back in the mid-to-late nineties, this wasn’t the case. In mentioning this news to his friends, some extremely well known today like Daniel Boulud, they became excited about the idea and asked this at the time developing Satur Farm team to send them to produce. “The first five years, we were delivering produce directly to the high-end restaurants”. As time continued to move on, their friendships with these chefs were maintained. As the chefs moved on to different restaurants, so did the Satur Farm produce. With the new projects that these chefs encountered Satur Farms produce was alway brought along for the ride. This is how Satur Farm lettuce became a staple at Le Pain Quotidien and Fresh & Co while also being on the shelves at the tri-state area Whole Foods Markets and online at FreshDirect. Best stated by Chef Eberhard Müller, “Fresh & Co needs boxes [of produce] while Tom Keller needs a sprig of chervil”, meaning, they are everywhere and catering to the specific needs of the hands they deliver to.
Sitting at this intimate table, talking to the people behind the produce I use to make my favorite salads, I found myself humbled and wondering how often this happens. Turns out, it doesn’t. They seldom invite people into their home and when they do it’s about once a year and it’s an intimate group of people from companies like Food & Wine or what sounded like the coolest most thoughtfully put together bonfire outfitted with cooking stations with Baldor. Here I sat at a stunning dark stained wooden table outfitted with black modern leather chairs that took notes from a director's chair in their design eager to experience the moments to come.
After clearing our dishes and guzzling a double espresso, the boots were back on and we were off to explore the four farms comprised of two hundred and sixty acres of land that they get roughly three harvests out of making it feel like seven hundred and eighty acres. Walking past what is now a European styled plaza that is made up of concrete with fifteen trees perfectly spaced and pruned amongst it—much like the tree arrangement that was recently added to the front of The Metropolitan Museum, Chef Eberhard Müller told me all about how tiny space—this compared to their current farm—was once home to their farm and that years ago, Food & Wine did a full feature all about it. It’s incredible to see this intimate space and then be driven all around their farmlands to see how much they have expanded and grown. It’s inspiring to say the least. It goes without saying that it takes a lot of work, but hearing about the start of their day being at three-thirty in the morning and that it’s an extremely hands-on process not only for their sixty employees but for themselves, the concept becomes a reality.
It’s the, “I’m so busy, I haven’t had time to exercise in three years” sentiment that had me asking Paulette questions about their farming practices. You see, in the upcoming Spring of 2017, new certification regulations are being passed in the state of New York. What that means for you is that you will begin to see the little blue and white circular stickers on your produce with a blue graphic of New York State in the center and the words “New York State Grown & Certified” surrounding it. To receive this what may feel like an insignificant sticker when you are quickly tossing ingredients into you shopping cart, farms are inspected for safe food handling, environmental stewardship, their products have to meet the highest quality standards, they must be certified for Good Agricultural Practices and participate in Agriculture Environmental Management all while protecting and conserving the State's natural resources. That’s a lot of information that would have felt like mumbo jumbo to me prior to this visit, so to give you a quick idea of what that looks like. Among so many additional regulations, this means having porta-potties available in several different parts of the farm for workers, making sure that workers wash their hands after encounters with any sort of chemicals before touching the produce or before eating, making certain that the produce is packaged properly and temperature controlled throughout all of it’s travel. New Yorkers, this is much like those letter cards in the windows of restaurants all around the city but on a finite level being that it’s attached to each individual piece of produce. These are the things that as an outsider to the farm we may not think about when we get out perfectly packaged thirty-six degree temperature controlled cool vacuumed package of wild arugula and somewhat lazily read the label in hopes that it is pre-washed so that we don’t have to spin it ourselves—I’m not the only one out there who does that, right?
FYI, all the farms out on the North Fork, Satur Farms is the only one up to regulation. Think about that, that’s huge!
I giggle about this to myself thinking about how I can be so lazy with my lettuce and then I know, it’s because I trust the people of Satur Farm to do all of the work for me. It’s really incredible to think that I’m getting this amazing quality lettuce all year round never thinking about how that’s possible. Fun fact, in the winter, Satur Farms cover crops their land here in New York and moves the majority of their operation to their far more vast five hundred acre Florida location—as Chef Eberhard Müller likes to put it, “we let nature rest and put the soil to bed” which is a fun play on words styled farmer’s joke that had I not been made fun of over the summer when the Manhattanite part of me didn’t understand a dishtowel that read something like “a farmer’s favorite place is in bed” referring to the plant beds, would have gone directly over my head. Let’s think about it, when I’m being good eating my greens in February, I am now going to be extra grateful that the people at Satur Farm respect the idea, as so poignantly stated by Chef Eberhard Müller, “New Yorkers don’t wait to be fed, they like to be fed right away” and make it possible for me to pick up a package of lettuce that has been farmed miles upon miles away and travelled to get from their farm to my table.
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Empire State Development . The opinions and text are all mine.