By Maya Rader
It may seem crazy that a chef at a Japanese restaurant in New York City became a farmer in upstate New York. However, this is exactly what happened to Joseph Koovalloor, who is now a farmer’s apprentice at Liberty Farms.
When Koovalloor was working as a chef, he became interested in how the food he worked with traveled from farm to table. He said that he “wasn’t really too sold on the idea” of the long and unknown path his ingredients took before they reached him. He moved to Japan to visit friends he made at the Japanese restaurant, and began volunteering at a Japanese farm. After he experienced farming, he was sold.
He then found his way to Liberty Farms, located in Ghent, NY, two and a half hours north of Manhattan, and became a farmer’s apprentice there last February.
Liberty Farms sells chicken and a wide variety of vegetables on Sundays at the Stuyvesant Town Greenmarket. The farm began selling at the greenmarket at the end of last season and continues to sell at the market this year.
Liberty Farms is both organic and biodynamic. Biodynamic farmers don’t use pesticides and try to reuse as many materials as they can; they see the farm as one ecosystem, where each crop, animal, soil or other material supports the others. Biodynamics also centers around soil fertility and nutrition, which is the foundation of the farm’s self-sustainability.
“It’s a little more focused on healing the Earth as well as the people on it,” Koovalloor explained.
At Liberty Farms, Koovalloor watches seeds turn into crops, eggs turn into chickens and food go from farm to table. “It’s the full circle of life. The Lion King theme is very much there,” said Koovalloor.
An average day at Liberty Farms is a long one.
“There’s always something to do,” he said with a laugh. An ordinary day for Koovalloor starts at 7 a.m. and goes to 5:30 to 6 p.m. On Sundays, when Liberty Farms travels to the greenmarket, Koovalloor wakes up at 3:30 a.m.
“Waking up is definitely a struggle,” Koovalloor confessed.
However, according to Koovalloor, it’s worth it.
“It’s quite nice to have a conversation with the people who are actually eating the food.”
At Liberty Farms, Koovalloor has had his fair share of interaction with the animals. He remarked that he was once head-butted by a horse. He recounts that one minute the horse was smelling him in a friendly way, and then the next, the horse headbutted him.
“The horse was laughing, sticking his tongue out at me, and having a riot.”
It is no surprise that Koovalloor’s favorite aspect of being a farmer is the food. As a farmer who still loves to cook from his restaurant days, Koovalloor said he gets “to cook with amazing, high-quality ingredients, and it’s quite awesome because I know who grew it.”