Exploring My Inner Farmer with RootedNY
If you’re in the New York area and love oysters or beer, book this tour now!
I’ve gone on many winery and brewery tours, but few as informative, well organized, and as generous with tastings as the day trips developed by Amanda and Clarissa of RootedNY. Amanda and Clarissa have strong relationships with the local, sustainable farmers and producers featured on tours, which greatly benefits their guests.
Actually, I attended two tours in two weeks. Both were completely unique, and both possessed the common thread of detailed planning, attention to every aspect of making the trip enjoyable for guests, and a desire to offer something that differs greatly from other tours.
Oysters and Beer
RootedNY’s Local Beer & Oysters in Long Island features Blue Island Shellfish Farms and Blue Point Brewing Company, two renowned producers in their individual industries. I love oysters and beer, but don’t know much about how they get to my table, so was very enthusiastic about this tour. My oyster loving mother, and friend Amy also joined the tour.
The group met at an easy to find spot behind the Barclay Center in Brooklyn. RootedNY’s upstate NY berry picking tour the following weekend left from Washington Square Park. Organized Amanda and Clarissa pick meeting points that facilitate easy highway access for the school buses they use for tours.
Our first stop was Blue Island Shellfish Farms, where we were met by friendly Chris Quartuccio, the owner who founded the company in 1995. Originally an oyster diver, Chris gave us an overview of the history of Sayville as an oyster town and the importance of the oyster as a protein source from the earliest days of New York’s settlement. In fact, according to Chris, the main line of the Long Island Railroad was built near the south shore to transport oysters from Long Island to the city.
Blue Island Oyster has 3 businesses: they farm Blue Point oysters in the Great South Bay; market their diver-harvested Naked Cowboy oysters; and distribute the world’s best oysters to restaurants in NYC/beyond. Oysters you eat in NYC restaurants or order from Fresh Direct, most likely originate at Blue Island.
Chris started the tour with a video that showed us how their Naked Cowboy oysters are harvested from the Long Island Sound by a crew of eight divers. They dive year round, and are the only oyster divers on the East Coast, because of restrictions in many locations. Oyster bed locations are a closely guarded secret and finding the shellfish in the muck takes great expertise. The divers will sell their wares to multiple dealers so no one knows how much they’re collecting.
Oyster trivia: oysters grow about 1″ per year in our waters and an oyster must be 3″ to be harvested. Farm raised oysters take about two years; Canadian oysters 5-6 years. Handpicking like Blue Island’s team does with the Naked Comboys is more sustainable. In most places dredge boats are used, which results in the collection of immature oysters.
Chris guides us through the operation, showing us how oysters are grown from almost impossible to see dots to baby oysters. We are broken into smaller groups to see the “Maternity Ward” where oysters are “hatched” and the scientific feeding set-up. Finally, we head to the backyard for a generous oyster tasting.
I was hoping we would learn to shuck the oysters but Chris’s team was so fast, there was no absorbing. I was in the second group to see the feeding room, so might have missed the shucking demo. We were told we would get 2-3 of each oyster, but probably had at least 5 each. No oyster should ever go to waste.
We started with the meaty Naked Cowboy oysters and everyone agreed they were the favorite of the group. Next we tried two different farm raised oysters that would likely have been rated more highly if not tasted side by side with the Naked Cowboys.
A great lunch from Brooklyn Larder fortifies us for what we are about to consume at Blue Point Brewery.
We reached the grounds of the brewery with the rain, which put a slight damper on their weekly party. We weren’t there for this however, and were quickly ushered inside and handed protective googles for our tour of the small brewing facility.
Michelle, our irreverent and entertaining guide, gave us the brief history of the company, started by Mark and Pete in 1998. This pair of well traveled home-brewers created what became Long Island’s first craft brewery, with a name inspired by the renowned Blue Point oysters.
I’ve been to a lot of winery tours, and have had some pretty excellent craft beer training (click here for my review of Urban Oyster’s informative craft beer tour), but have never experienced a tour/tasting done as effectively as Blue Point’s. Instead of being lectured for an hour, then tasting – the tasting was incorporated in the tour, which makes a lot more sense. Tasting what is being described makes for more effective learning, and tasting side by side enables one to compare and contrast different styles of brewing.
We start with the Helles, move on to the Toasted Lager, then my favorite of the day the Armchair Nitro Stout. But wait, I also love the Mosaic Session IPA and the White IPA. And the Hoptical Illusion is worth schlepping home too!
Michelle discusses the process then we taste the beer that was made from that process. She passes cups of grains and hops so we can taste and smell them. When we rub the hops between our fingers and smell the resiny/piney smell, then taste the IPA, it comes together in a way just hearing about the resiny/piney smell never does.
Amanda and Clarissa pass out the decent sized cups of 6 different beers as Michelle describes them, then we are sent to the tasting room to taste more, and buy beer to bring home.
This tour will be offered again on Saturday, July 18. Please contact me via the contact form here or at eva10011 @hotmail.com to book.
RootedNY also offers tours of cheese-makers, apiaries and more. Check the site for new tours.
For a more immersive experience, your private group can tour the oyster beds in the middle of the Great South Bay by boat or by kayak, visit a historic lighthouse and more.
Berries and Cider
The following weekend I was back on the bus for another fun RootedNY trip to Fishkill Farms. Originally billed as strawberry picking, we were advised as early in the week as possible that the strawberries were almost gone and we would be picking cherries and raspberries instead. Even better!
Although I’m not from Brooklyn, I have been roof-top farming for years and was very interested to experience a real farm operation. Fishskill farms is a beautiful, historic apple orchard that has been in the same family for nearly 100 years. Using organic methods, but not certified, the farm features a beautiful, busy farmstand and a popular pick-your-own operation. The parking lot was packed as we pulled up with many families picnicing around the grounds and coming from the fields with huge bags of cherries.
After a true farm-to-table lunch featuring turkey smoked at the farm, roasted vegetables, fresh picked greens – and warm donuts from the farm stand, we were ready for our no-hay “hay-ride.”
Rain was threatening the entire ride upstate, but didn’t really happen until the lovely Robin of Jamaica was driving us around the farm on a wagon hitched to the back of his tractor. We proved to be an intrepid group of city-folk thrilled to cruise around the farm and pick berries in the rain. Fishkill’s trees were laden with dark sweet cherries or the more colorful Rainier cherries.
I went a little crazy and ended up with 2 boxes; RootedNY treated us to the first box.
Next, a few of us walked into other fields to pick raspberries. After we settled up our bill, we were treated to a local hard-cider tasting by Mark, Fishkill’s farm manager.
Amanda and Clarissa have a vision. They want to connect urban consumers with their food, and make deep, lasting connections to local and sustainable producers. Taking the farm-to-table experience out of the kitchen and exposing us first hand to where our food comes from.
In the days before the tour, attendees are given advice on what to wear and bring to have the best experience possible. Both trips I sat behind Amanda and Clarissa on the bus and witnessed the high level of professionalism of the operation. The driver is kept on track with clear instructions and directions. Breaks are mapped and positioned for easy highway access. RootedNY’s partners are kept abreast of arrival times and scheduling delays. Any social media comments I made about the tours were responded to in seconds. These women are buttoned up and very impressive.
RootedNY private and public tours give participants a unique, first-hand experience of how our food is produced and where. “By fostering an interactive learning environment, we will help consumers align their purchases with their values and build deep, lasting connections,” states their literature.
RootedNY’s private custom tours make great team building or development programs for corporate groups; educational adventures for schools; really different bachelorette parties; or a fun day for friends and family.
Culinary enthusiasts, urban farmers, and anyone looking for a fun, unique thing to do on the weekends will enjoy the group or public trips.
My participation in the Local Oysters and Beer tour was courtesy of RootedNY. Opinions are my own.