American Farmland Trust, The Culinary Institute of America, and Fabulous Beekman Boys Screen Film To Raise Student Awareness About Dairy Farming in New York State

The Culinary Institute of America American Farmland Trust Beekman 1802

The Fabulous Beekman Boys Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell of Beekman 1802 joined American Farmland Trust (AFT) and The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) to host a screening of The First Season, a powerful documentary about dairy farming in New York State, followed by a panel discussion, to raise CIA students’ awareness of issues facing dairy farmers.

The First Season, directed by Rudd Simmons, producer of compelling Hollywood films such as The Road, Dead Man Walking and The Royal Tenenbaums, dramatically tells the story of dairy farmers Paul and Phyllis VanAmburgh, an upstate New York couple, as they struggle to learn how to milk cows while caring for their young children, coming together in the evenings to face down monumental financial stress at a kitchen table piled with overdue bills.

“Culinary arts students use fresh, healthy farm products every day and influence the minds and stomachs of New Yorkers,” said David Haight, New York State Director for AFT who moderated the panel discussion following the film screening. “This event was designed to raise student awareness of the issues dairy farmers face in bringing their products to market and the fact that the farmland dairy farmers need to survive is being paved over at an alarming rate.” Panelists included: Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Beekman 1802; Sam Simon, Hudson Valley Fresh; Paul and Phyllis Van Amburgh, Dharma Lea Farm; and Stuart Ziehm, Tiashoke Farm.


The students heard the farmer-panelists’ concerns over issues ranging from ensuring the production of high quality milk and fair pricing, to environmental stewardship, farmland conservation and the challenge of passing the family farm on to the next generation. In turn students asked the farmers for advice about how they could work to support consumer access to locally produced food and help farmers by serving the food they produce in restaurants once the students graduate and become chefs. “You are ambassadors,” Sam Simon of Hudson Valley Fresh told the culinary students at the close of the discussion. “There are no better ambassadors than you.”

The First SeasonA sampling from the discussion:

“The small, family farm used to be central to the American experience. The life of a farmer was built on traditional American principals: self-reliance, dedication, thrift and hard work. But, despite a recent interest in local food production, sustainability and environmental preservation, the small, family farm is rapidly disappearing from the American landscape.” –Rudd Simmons, Director, The First Season

“In my family we have to think about the next generation. We’ve got 700 cows, 5 families and another generation on the way. How can we support them?” — Stuart Ziehm, Tiashoke Farms

“Once you put a housing development on a farm, you can never go back. There is a lot of development pressure on farmers here in Dutchess County. We are so close to the city. Hudson Valley Fresh farmers work 6,000 acres of farmland. They are great stewards of the land and stewards of the cattle and they deserve to get paid a fair price.” –Sam Simon, President, Hudson Valley Fresh

“We have five children. We dream that they will stay on the farm. We hope the local food movement will create enough pressure and raise standards high enough to ensure farmers get a fair price. There is so much potential. Our farm is only three hours away from one of the biggest food markets in the world.” – Paul VanAmburgh, Dharma Lea Farm

“The small family farm is the mother of virtue. It can’t help but be real, because it has birth, death, nurture, disaster inextricably linked to its every move. It provides a direct link to the forces that sustain us, our food, our environment, and our children, without which we lose sight of the things that really matter, and waste our efforts on distractions.”–Phyllis VanAmburgh, Dharma Lea Farm

“Most people don’t know where their food comes from. Many don’t even know that a cow must give birth to a calf in order to produce milk. Farmers are under pressure to make food cheaper and cheaper. The public doesn’t want to pay what it costs to produce food.” –Brent Ridge, Beekman 1802

“One challenge is the foodie movement’s perception of agriculture, which media helps create. They believe that small farms are good and big farms are bad. We have learned that many small farms want to grow and that big farms want to be good stewards.” — Josh Kilmer-Purcell, Beekman 1802.


 Click here to read AFT Intern Lisa Cassidy’s Reflection on The First Season