by Julie Cushine-Rigg
Sloansville, NY, near Schoharie, is the setting of Arcadian Pastures (AP), a heritage farm owned by Laurent and Debra Danthine. Just off of a very winding road in the hills, a beautiful scene of country side opens up and seems to go on forever. And then you spot them, the striking black and white ‘Oreo Cookie’ cows in the pasture and their neighbors the spotted pigs. Not your everyday breeds in New York State for sure. This is due in part to Laurent’s own heritage.
He hails from Belgium, and started living in the states (Nassau, NY) during summers from the age of 15. “My mother worked for G.E. and a good friend of hers at G.E. had a son the same age as me who lived in Nassau,” he recalls about his first visit to America. He met Debra in Nassau, and then in 1991 he moved here year round to attend SUNY Albany where he focused on English/Literature.
Prior to farming, Laurent ran a construction company in Averill Park, NY, and Debra worked as a waitress. It was 2003 when he and Debra began Arcadian Pastures, but it wasn’t under the best circumstances that the couple decided to farm. Debra found a lump and was diagnosed with breast cancer. After enduring surgeries, chemotherapies and other treatments, she and Laurent did a fair amount of research into what may have contributed to her cancer.
“We did some research and found that it was about a 50 percent chance that Debra had cancer because of what she was eating [typical American diet].” It was then that they decided to start farming, to eat only what they raised themselves. “We started with five Angus cows, part time,” recalls Laurent talking on a very bright and bitter winter day from his custom butcher shop on the 136 acre farm.
Combined with Laurent’s dissatisfaction with the construction industry at the time, and the potential of feedlot animals contributing to Debra’s cancer, conditions were right for them to embark on the change in lifestyle.
After a few years their Angus herd grew to 21 head. At that time, a well was needed on the farm, so the herd was sold to pay for those expenses. Laurent says that because the Angus were a little bit aggressive they decided to start fresh after the well was finished, with ‘Oreo Cookie Cows’, aka Belted Galloway Cattle.
Now the cattle are about 18 strong and they have neighbors and the farm has expanded to include pigs, chickens, geese, lamb and goats. “We wanted to do the whole heritage farm. We wanted to raise animals that haven’t been modified by humans,” he explained.
Five years ago when AP started marketing their meat, Laurent says they planned on supplying mainly to local restaurants. “It didn’t go well, people weren’t as aware of the products [grass-fed] as they are now. I was against starting to go to farmers markets, but as a survival we went to them [NYC to farmers markets]. In NYC they’re better educated, they pay a better price and love our products,” he explained.
Never having planned on the NYC markets, AP now travels to the metropolis twice a week for deliveries. It used to be that AP did seven farmers markets there on Saturdays with their beef and pork. When that schedule became too much for the couple and their three children, they shifted their efforts. Now they participate in only a few markets a week and supply patrons with a larger variety of products including pork, lamb, beef, chicken, geese, and eggs.
“Just by being there and word of mouth,” Laurent says they have picked up a lot of business in the city. In addition to the markets, they are selling to wholesalers and a few restaurants there. Sales are presently at about three to four whole animals a month.
With a decade of restaurant experience prior to his construction business, Laurent understands chefs quite well. One of the biggest things that needs to happen, according to him (and so many farmers), is that chefs need to learn how to work with the whole animal.
“If I get a chef who wants 50 pounds of New York strips, I have to raise the price, because I have to figure out what to do with the rest of the cuts. Chefs don’t understand that.” The most in demand cuts are not necessarily the prime cuts like everybody thinks. There’s a lot of flavor in the shank and legs but they have to be cooked differently. “A lot of people don’t want to deal with that,” he said.
Laurent admits with a smile that he enjoys talking with the public and educating them about what he sells. Relaying a story about a recent visit to NYC, he sees just how far people are from the reality of where their food comes from. A little boy asked his father what was in the eggs he saw. The father answered “milk”. It’s a good thing Laurent likes to talk! He does say that if you tell people too much, they’re turned off. “They only want to know so much, they can’t handle knowing it all.”
Providing mostly fresh meats from his custom shop, Laurent is now selling whole animals. He’s secured different customers for different cuts and is able to make it work. Although it has been a struggle and took a long time to get to this point.
Keeping things as local as they can, the Danthines purchase grain for their pigs from nearby Cold Spring Farm and Black Crow. “To get feed from other places, and looking at the gas it takes to get it here… It’s just silly not to buy as locally as we can,” expressed Laurent.
In addition to the Belted Galloway cattle, AP has; Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs, Katahdin Sheep, Chickens (Brahmas, New Hampshires, Jersey Giants, Orpingtons, Wyandottes, Australorps and Araucanas) and Cayuga ducks.
On the cold January day after chatting in the butcher shop, Laurent takes a few minutes to check on his pigs, and he is at ease. He and his family are farming, the way they want to. Summed up in a mission statement of sorts from their Web site (arcadianpastures.com), this statement says it all:
We are living our dream, and if we can help people to be able to feed themselves and their families in the cleanest and most nutritious possible way, then we believe we have done our job of contributing to bettering our world.