You’re a film editor living in Los Angeles, working on movie trailers. Yes, you’ve done Star Wars. And Murder on the Orient Express. Life is good. But your food—you’ve got questions, born of wanting to be healthy and wanting your family to be healthy. What about those pesticides? you wonder. Are they okay for me? Will they be okay for my unborn children?
You travel, learn, eventually land yourself back in New York. You visit Stone Barns and think, this is beautiful. And, it’s a working organic farm.
Maybe you’re ready for a career change, but you don’t know it yet. You just do what any film editor who’s learned the art of efficiency might do: you grow your own food in a few raised beds outside in summer, then when autumn arrives and you can’t give up the basil, you grow it in eight vertical hydroponic towers in your spare room—optimizing your space, figuring, exploring. It’s a way to be assured that your food is fresh and healthy. And it’s kind of fun. All that green, from floor to ceiling! Come winter, you are growing eighty basil plants. This might be more than you need.
When January arrives and you have, well, a lot of extra basil literally hanging around, you contact a few local restaurants to see if they might want some and they say, “Basil in January? From a local grower? We’ll take it.”
Then, if you are Tom Deacon, you take the logical next step.
You plan to become a farmer.
Sure, you trek to Manhattan to keep up the film editing, until you’re financially ready. But when that’s in place, you make the switch (mostly)—from film to Fable.
Fable is a small farm in Ossining, NY, just off route 134. And, while Tom meant the name to express “from farm to table,” there is also something storybook about the whole endeavor, not the least of which is that the place is run by someone who has, as a film editor and web designer, been condensing stories to their essence for a long time. Tom has lived stories or, you could say, been bringing them to life in miniature.
In a lot of ways, running Fable is no different—though it offers, as Tom notes, “the best office anyone could have.”
While Fable is a farm that grows mainly heirloom tomatoes like Brandywine and German Johnson, cherry tomatoes in the colors of the rainbow, tasty lettuces, and microgreens (plus raises about 500 chickens, for their organic eggs), it’s also a chance to hold the story of an American past, when small farms dotted the landscape. The old plows at the edge of the drive stir this remembrance of earlier times. The rolling hills and pond are part of an old-time farm landscape. Fable even has the iconic windmill, though the blades for the original are resting behind the barn.
When I was last at Fable, Tom was daydreaming, “I wonder if I could get the film crew to put the windmill blades back up. Maybe I could negotiate with them, and they could use their crane to do it.”
You heard that right. Though Tom’s own film days are no longer the center of his life, the film industry still shows up at his farm door, since the landowner Tom leases from (Sundial Farms) periodically contracts with motion picture companies who might be needing, well, a farm—or a pond, or a birch forest, or a stand of redwood trees… maybe even a sprawlingly beautiful classic colonial from the 1700s (that the Sundial owner still lives in). It wasn’t too long ago, for instance, that BlacKkKlansmen burned a cross near the orchard where Fuji and Gala still grow.
Like the apple orchard, which is no longer actively cared for, there’s a peach orchard that now has the look of fairyland. So secret. Magical in its deep green silence. It speaks of a past that has fallen by the wayside. “It’s been decades since the trees were cared for,” says Tom. He has visions of maybe changing the peach place over to a fig tree glade, since there’s a local grower who’s been giving him extra fig trees. The only problem with figs, if you want to call it a problem, is that in the northeast you have to wrap them in the winter or move them into a greenhouse. For now, it’s been off to the greenhouses, come cold.
If you visit Fable on the weekends, you can get some of the land’s bounty for your own, from their small market that operates in one of the bays of the barn. A Farmall tractor from yesteryear sits quietly in the next bay over.
The people you’ll meet as you pore over questions of asparagus and cucumbers versus purple carrots and oyster mushrooms, are clearly happier shopping here—where they know Tom and his co-workers Ashley, Grace, and Amber—than they must be in a relatively nameless, faceless grocery store where you can bag your own groceries (while, these days, a machine sometimes loudly takes you to task, for scanning your blueberries or your lentil pasta wrong). Their happiness can be guessed from the way the people are asking after Tom’s little boy, discussing their own businesses with him, and occasionally chatting with each other over the state of the strawberries (so delicious!). One market-goer even brings a gift for Tom’s son. If more people shopped like this, amidst people they’ve come to care about, the world might be a little less lonely. It’s something to ponder.
Tom and his wife Kristin are all about bringing people together. It started with their own decision to work as a team at the farm—he as the farmer (originally with his brother), administrator, and advertiser; she as the events coordinator, whether it’s weddings, festivals, or culinary experiences like A Night at the Farm. This model has allowed Kristin to care for their son full-time, and it also means that Tom occasionally gets to hold his little boy during the day while Kristin stops in to meet with a potential event client.
As for teams, that’s just the start. The whole of Fable farm is a team effort, not just because Grace is in the greenhouse tending micro shiso, radish, beet, basil, and so on, while Ashley is gathering eggs or planting lettuces and Amber is cultivating mushrooms; it’s also a team effort across the Hudson Valley, where Tom has created relationships with other growers, to bring the fruits (and vegetables) of their hard work to market-goers on Saturdays and Sundays.
Once you make it past the scallions and garlic scapes, you realize the relationships Tom has cultivated don’t stop at the fruits and vegetables. Fresh flowers are set up in the back corner and Susan’s has provided granola and strawberry rhubarb pie. There are Dam Good English Muffins (baked in the town near the Croton Dam, but, as Tom notes, the English muffins really are so, so good; hence, the name). There are butters and cheeses and maple syrup and spicy salsas. You can even get basil soap and beeswax wrap. All from regional makers.
As my older daughter Sara and I walked the grounds of Fable recently, talking to Tom, we learned of his dreams to make a farm trail, build a bridge from the orchard to a glade near the willow where he’d love to make it wedding-ready, and add a bench (or a cottage) to the secret silence of the peach grove.
His work and his visions and his overall approach made an impression on us; for the summer, Sara has become part of Tom’s team, as a volunteer. Today, in the rain, perhaps she’ll work in the greenhouses. Or gather eggs. Maybe she’ll encounter the funny runaway chicken again, who tried to hitch a ride on the wheelbarrow last Friday, but fell off before securing passage. Later, when I go to pick her up, if I decide I need some lettuce, it might be nice to receive it from my daughter’s own hands. Then we can make our salad together, back home.
Photos by L.L. Barkat.