COLONIE — In the heart of suburban Colonie, with its shopping plazas and housing developments, is a natural refuge where hawks pluck mice and fish from meadow and stream, and a family of farmers plucks ripe produce from fields.
Just out of sight from most direct roads but still only a few blocks away from the township's most busy locales, Lansing's Farm Market holds a secret that more and more are just coming to know: the fruits of the farm have been grown here for eight generations, and two newcomers to the area seek to unlock this secret in the form of hearty, seasonally-driven weekend meals.
Albert Lansing and his children have been carrying on the legacy of the Lansings before them by growing nutritious produce for the surrounding community, but like with most family farms, the struggle to keep his farm relevant in a time when big-box produce from states (or countries) reigns. A CSA was started for customers of the farm, but Lansing knew there was more that could be done.
“I thought people needed to experience a farm right in their own backyard. People don’t realize the importance of agriculture and how good it can taste,” said Lansing.
One of his sons had recommended Joan Porambo and Kyle MacPherson, friends he had come to know that had recently relocated from restaurants in Vermont to embrace the Capital Region food scene. They initially decided to do pop-up style dinners from the farm kitchen, beginning in September 2017, and that has evolved into Field Notes, the business Porambo and MacPherson founded that creates Saturday night fixed-price dinners and Sunday brunches.
Field Notes owners Joan Porambo and Kyle MacPherson under the tent at Lansing Farm.
“I always knew I wanted to do food,” said Porambo, who attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park before working in Vermont restaurants and later at New World Bistro Bar in Albany. For both her and MacPherson, the right project for them involved more than just putting food on a table.
“We've both worked at so many restaurants that claim to support local farms but a Sysco truck pulls up to the back several times a week. Maybe only 10 percent is actually farm to table,” said Porambo.
Each week's menu is based on what is in season on the farm that week. (“We make whatever the produce tells us,” said MacPherson.) Proteins come from Smith Orchards in Ballston Lake and Sweet Tree Farm in Carlisle. Each meal consists of five courses (an appetizer-style course, entree, salad, cheeseboard and dessert.)
The cheeseboard is Porambo's favorite course and is served family-style. One cheese -- a farm-made spreadable cheese of Battenkill Valley milk -- is offered with chutneys, jams, pickles and baguette and acts as a palate cleanser before dessert. Saturday evening dinners are $65 and permit customer-brought alcohol.
Success for Field Notes wasn’t immediate, said Porambo. At the first dinner, only four customers showed up. “I asked myself, did we make a giant mistake?” she said, but an event with the local Yelp community caused for immediate sell-outs and oversells of seats at dinners.
“It was a notable change and it brought a lot of attention to us. We could have expanded but it’s more important that we only take on a certain amount of people and do it well,” said MacPherson.
MATTHEW FUJ SCHER
Lansing Farm’s Field Notes
The duo started Sunday brunches last fall as a way to bring more people to the farm and try the food at a lower price point. “Local and fresh have become synonymous with dollar signs,” said Porambo, and she and MacPherson designed a $3 brunch plate of local toast, farm eggs and seasonal vegetable hash and toast so show that locally-sourced food can compete with commoditized food. “Farms aren’t always as accessible as ours. We want to do any part we can to bring more awareness of local food and agriculture,” MacPherson said.
More from Dine 2019: Schenectady County
- Taj Mahal Restaurant serves up traditional Indian dishes in Schenectady
- Malcolm's brings farm-to-table to Schenectady
- Good food and friendly setting carry Scotia's Turf Tavern through eight decades
- Cornells in Little Italy offers Schenectady great Italian, cozy atmosphere
- Gershon's still tops for deli sandwiches, salads in Schenectady
The 2019 growing season is beginning, and Field Notes will begin producing dinners and brunches again in coming weeks. Along with Lansing, Porambo and MacPherson hope to offer additional nights of a la carte dinners and custom growing (“I’d love watermelon radishes,” said Porambo), but for now, looking to the past, when the fields of suburban Schenectady were brimming with vegetables, is the focus for Lansing’s Farm Market and Field Notes. “We want to find the best and freshest ingredient and highlight food grown in this community,” MacPherson said, and dining direct on the farm is the best way this trio finds to do it.
Deanna Fox is a food and agriculture journalist. @DeannaNFox www.foxonfood.com