At Home in the Adirondacks 2016
From field to plate at Farmhouse Pantry
by Shaun Kittle
When Sarah and Josh Vaillancourt talk about farming, they aren’t just talking about producing food. Sure, that’s part of it—they do raise animals for meat—but that doesn’t occur in a vacuum. For them, farming is about community, it’s about values and it’s about the environment.
The Vaillancourts didn’t always think much about food philosophy. Josh grew up on a dairy farm in Vermont, and he swore he’d never go down that path. It wasn’t until he worked with Heifer International, a nonprofit organization whose goal is to end hunger by linking farmers to communities, that Josh saw a different side of food production. “I think there’s an ethical hue to agriculture that I didn’t think of before,” Josh says. “My impression up until then was basically that farming was about working too much and not getting paid enough, because that was my family’s experience.”
For her part, Sarah says books like Fast Food Nation, a behind-the-scenes look at the farming and business practices within the fast-food industry, put the idea of small-scale farming on her radar.
A mountain of research later, and the couple felt ready to put their newfound knowledge to work. It wasn’t so much a career path as it was a lifestyle choice, and it was a lifestyle choice they wanted to share with others. That dream—of growing and sharing—began to take shape four years ago. With the help of Sarah’s parents, Joanna and Donnie Jackson, they moved to an old farm in Saranac, a small, quiet town about halfway between Saranac Lake and Plattsburgh. Land was far cheaper in the Adirondacks than in Vermont, where they lived. They opened Farmhouse Pantry on Labor Day 2015.
The business is part bakery, part store and part café on Route 3. Customers can stop in for soup and a sandwich, or they can pick up staples like oats, sugar, maple syrup and coffee.
Beside the counter are shelves lined with coffee mugs that Sarah’s parents collected during their travels. The dining room has an open feel, with high ceilings, exposed rafters and antique-looking chandeliers hanging from old barn beams. Below them is an assortment of mismatched tables. On the walls is a collection of photos, some taken by Sarah, and beyond the dining room is a lounge area with a piano, a woodstove and a rainbow of books arranged by color.
The menu includes daily breakfast and lunch specials plus standards such as chef’s salad, egg-salad sandwiches or a hand-pressed cheeseburger on a freshly baked roll with Thousand Island dressing.
Many of the fruits and vegetables on the menu are grown at Oregano Flats and North Branch farms, both in Saranac. The rest mostly come from within a day’s drive—things like bananas are an exception—and a lot of the meat and eggs come from the Vaillancourts’ 26-acre farm, Woven Meadows.
The farm is a short drive from the café along a road lined with red clover and daisies, about a 10-minute commute. That’s ideal for the farmers, who have their hands full.
Every morning, Josh gets to the Pantry around six a.m. to bake breads, cookies, pastries, macaroons, pies and cheesecake. He also preps food for the day’s business. It’s a lot of work, but so is the farm. While he kneads, mixes and chops, Sarah takes care of their three children—Noah, 10; Del, eight; and Rye, 13 months—and tends to the animals. There are cows, pigs, chickens, ducks, turkeys and five ridiculously large and gregarious Great Pyrenees that are tasked with protecting the livestock.
When Sarah finishes her morning chores she heads to Farmhouse Pantry to help feed the hungry customers, and then it’s back to Woven Meadows for more chores. The farm work is fairly routine—she heads across the pasture, egg bucket in hand, moving electric fences as she goes. The cows immediately push their way into the opened area, jostling for first dibs on the tall, slender blades of grass and the winding tangles of cow vetch. They eagerly mow through the vegetation, oblivious that the entire bulk of Whiteface Mountain, not to mention Algonquin, Marcy and Vermont’s Green Mountains, are all in plain view.
Sarah turns a couple of water spigots, feeds the pigs, and then moves on to the chickens, which are congregating around an old camper. Inside, there’s a hen in the cupboard that clucks as Sarah gently retrieves an egg from beneath her. “Some of them are surprisingly private,” Sarah says, closing the cupboard door. She finds more eggs in a couple of drawers as another hen watches, head cocked.
Even after the chores are done, the Vaillancourts’ work is not. Fences need mending, sections of the milking barn need upgrading, and those five Great Pyrenees sometimes sleep on the job.
Farmhouse Pantry has been a couple of things over the decades, but people seem to remember its last iteration, as Rustique Restaurant, with particular fondness.
Jen Beveridge and Nick Casey—whose parents owned Rustique until selling the building to the Vaillancourts and Jacksons—live in Saranac and stop by Farmhouse Pantry at least once a week. They’re loyal regulars who say they appreciate knowing where their food comes from. Sometimes they walk away with groceries, other times they let the Vaillancourts do the cooking for them.
Casey says that his affinity for the place goes beyond the food. “I was just sitting here looking around, remembering all of the times I was here. I just enjoy the building.”
The place has changed a little from Casey’s childhood—Josh ripped down some walls to open up the dining room—but it still has a cozy feel. It’s easy to imagine people gathered here, locally brewed beer in hand as they enjoy one of the occasional open-mic nights.
This isn’t just a café, Casey says. It’s a great café.
And that’s how the Vaillancourts want it. They aren’t looking to break new ground; they just want to offer good, affordable, sustainably produced food to their community. But Farmhouse Pantry isn’t a restaurant, Sarah stresses: There aren’t any servers, and patrons shouldn’t leave a tip.
“It was kind of like, let’s have a farm store, but we want to have coffee and drinks too,” Josh says. “And we want to have a bakery, but if you have a bakery you have to have sandwiches and soups, too. It kind of kept escalating.”
Sarah laughs and admits that Farmhouse Pantry is really an amalgamation of clever ideas that were just crazy enough to work together. The latest of those ideas is a cheese cave, which will be located behind the window that’s to the right of the front counter. Visitors will be able to peer into the cave, loaded with all manner of soft and hard cheeses. Josh has a passion for cheese making, and he’s eager to get back to it.
“People say, in your 20s you follow your passion, in your 30s you say, ‘Screw it, I need to make money,’ then in your 40s you go back to that passion,” Sarah says. “We are in our 30s and we haven’t given up on our passion yet. We work hard to make it work.”
Find more information, including business hours, at www.farmhouse-pantry.com or (518) 293-5174.