In Queens, the Cream of the Crop

Why drive upstate to pitch a tent when the Queens County Farm BBQ and Campout is just a subway ride away?

 

Why drive upstate to pitch a tent when the Queens County Farm BBQ and Campout is just a subway ride away? (Admittedly you’ll have to transfer to the bus to reach this bucolic corner of Floral Park, Queens, or cap an L.I.E. ride with a cab connection, but either route is still way quicker than hitting the highway to the Catskills.)

On Friday, July 19, pull out your camping gear and hit the Queens County Farm Museum, a destination that holds serious agricultural cred as New York’s oldest and largest tract of continuously farmed land. After gorging yourself on the farm’s bounty, you can sleep under the stars (and occasional 747s) in the apple orchard.

Founded in 1697 by Dutch settlers, the farm sits on 47 acres that house historic buildings, vibrant vineyards, a glass greenhouse, fields of produce, herb gardens, beehives and a menagerie of pigs, sheep, cows, chickens and goats. Since the place is property of the Parks Department, everything’s open to the public and the staff are always looking for ways to attract visitors, beyond the farmer-led tours and weekend hayrides. To that end, head farmer Kennon Kay and her colleagues cooked up the ’cue-and-campout idea five years ago.

“This event came from the desire to celebrate food from the farm, on the farm,” says Kay, who formerly farmed up at the Stone Barns Center and now lives in Crown Heights. “And it’s a good excuse to have a party, basically.”

“It’s a really bountiful time on the farm,” she adds, “so people love being there after hours, poking around, eating and then turning it into a dance party.”

While your upstate tentside dinner may have featured leftover car snacks or insipid Cup-a-Soup, this BBQ bash showcases the Queens crops in an all-you-can-eat dinner buffet, with pastured pork from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats and farmy fixins by eco-gastro caterer the Cleaver Company. Last year’s lineup included pulled pork sandwiches, brisket, corn on the cob, slaw, beets, potato salad and salad of foraged ingredients from the farm’s wild woodland, like lamb’s-quarters and purslane, though each year’s menu depends on what’s ripe for the picking. “The meal itself isn’t decided until usually the week before, just to make sure we’re getting what’s really in season,” says farmer Kay. “You can’t really get any closer to the source of your meal than at this event.”

From just over the borough border, the Brooklyn Brewery provides dance-inducing kegs of beer. Dessert is DIY campfire s’mores, of course.

Once the sun sets and the token New York stars come out, a DJ keeps the hoedown going until the wee hours. Attendees who prefer talking to tangoing can hang out at one of several crackling campfires instead, or retire for the evening under the apple trees.

But despite the kegs and DJ, Kay says the audience isn’t ripped from a Girls episode: “We get a whole slew of people—it’s not just hipsters,” she swears. Attendees must be of drinking age, but the crowd ranges from groups of friends in their 20s to couples in their 50s. Tickets, $75, must be purchased in advance, and the farm caps attendance at 125.

Besides BYO camping gear, Kay encourages guests to bring picnic blankets, plus reusable utensils and plates to reduce waste. Bathrooms—but no showers—are located on-site, which sounds a lot like a Catskills campground. But when the sun rises the next day, you’ll know you’re in New York City: In keeping with urban priorities, serious coffee is served first thing, so you can fuel up before taking a car service back to Williamsburg in time for brunch.

Photo credit: Dan D’Ippolito

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