Last updated April 30, 2021
The Lodge at Woodloch opened its doors in May 2006, and I was one of their first guests. SpaFinder, the company I then worked for, held their Board Meeting the first week after opening.
Being one of the first guests is always an exciting experience, and this was no exception, but much of Woodloch had yet to unfold. I returned a year later, this time with my daughter, for a purely social visit. We had a great time, and Woodloch was still in its infancy.
They say “third time’s the charm,” and that definitely is true for my most recent visit this past January. It had been fourteen years since the last time and I was astonished by how grown-up The Lodge at Woodloch had become.
All the things I loved about it were still there: the crystal “singing bowls” in the lobby, the way nature is brought inside through inspired architecture and art, stellar spa treatments thanks to well-trained therapists and fabulous farm-to-table cuisine.
But what was different was the depth and creativity of the program offerings, even during COVID. We had so many varied experiences during our three-day winter stay, which is off-season in northeast Pennsylvania (Hawley, PA to be exact).
I loved our hike in the woods where we were given Yak-Traks to make sure we could navigate icy patches and snow; making s’mores over the fire near the lake; taking a WAVE class (short for “Water Aerobics using Vertical Energy”) where we jumped on mini-trampolines in the pool; and the “Dream Shifting Journey” meditation.
One of my favorite activities was “Decorative Birdhouse Making,” which felt like a summer camp activity, except for wearing masks and socially-distancing! I proudly display my birdhouse in my office and take great joy in looking at it every day.
And let’s not forget the food…the cuisine at The Lodge at Woodloch is as creative as the décor and programs. I sat down with “Farmicist” Derrick Braun and Josh Tomson, Executive Chef, to learn more about the food philosophy.
Interview with Derrick Braun, Farmicist
Derrick studied Culinary Nutrition and Dietetics at Johnson & Wales University where he started to put together a common truth – healthy people need healthy food, need healthy soil. He knew he needed to spend time on a sustainable farm in order to see food and nutrition more holistically than what is taught in school.
Ultimately, he found that and much more in Northeast, PA including his beautiful wife, a home for their daughter and a dream job managing The Blackmore Farm, an organic farm providing produce for The Lodge at Woodloch.
Sallie: You have one of the best titles I’ve ever encountered – Farmicist! What exactly do you do at The Lodge at Woodloch and did you create your own title?
Derrick: As far as my title, I have to give credit to our PR and Marketing Professional, Brooke, who amongst many other talents is very creative at capturing a larger idea in just a few words.
She had a few options for me, but “The Farmicist” stuck out to me the most at the time because I was beginning to experience day-to-day interactions with guests helping them troubleshoot problems in their existing home gardens or helping folks through the planning stages of starting a new garden.
Seven years later, my inbox is full of guests who took my advice (and my seeds) to create beautiful and productive gardens on their windowsills, balconies or back yards. Today, this is still the most rewarding part of the job.
In general, I strive to be a good ambassador of sustainable agriculture to our guests in order to teach folks where food comes from and how it is grown, discuss diet and nutrition with an emphasis on digestion and provide hints, tips, and tricks on processing/cooking the products we grow to help them utilize whole foods more easily and often.
Sallie: What do you grow at Blackmore Farm during each season of the year?
Derrick: It has taken many years and extensive communication with our kitchen to dial in on exactly which crops have the best impact on our guests and the kitchen.
Salad greens, culinary herbs, microgreens, and honey are examples of crops we provide all year round. Of course, seasonal heavy hitter-crops like the tomato, squash, and cabbage families are always planted seasonally.
Some of these cannot be harvested all year long, but in the months where they are available, they can be extremely abundant- sometimes to the point of excess. We proudly boast that our restaurant did not need to order cucumbers for nearly 4 months this past year because of a bumper crop of ours.
Thanks to my good friend and farming partner Sam, our young orchard has started to produce an abundance of rhubarb and perennial herbs in the spring, currants, blueberries, and raspberries in the summer, and by autumn we harvest peaches, plums, and cherries to be followed by apples, pears, and pawpaws.
In addition to our cultivated shiitake mushroom logs, Mother Nature also provides us with a bounty that grows naturally in our forest like foraged mushrooms as well as greens and berries throughout the year.
Sallie: I understand that you are passionate about beekeeping. Why is this important? Can you tell us more about the bees and their role in your farming philosophy?
Derrick: We have a fundamental goal on the farm to provide habitat and food for everything and anyone we can: obviously, for our guests at The Lodge, but also live in, on, and above the soil. Support for our beneficial insects is just one example of how we can give back to our environment in exchange for a more productive and resilient farm.
Of the 400+ pollinating bees in the state of Pennsylvania, the honeybee sparks the most interest from our guests and in turn gives us the opportunity to teach people the importance of bees within the ecology and ways they can help the struggling bee. Of course, the potential for a few hundred pounds of honey can certainly “sweeten” the deal!
Sallie: I’d like to hear your answer to the question we asked Chef Josh . . . What are some of your favorite dishes that use what is grown at the Farm?
Derrick: It may not seem like an exciting answer, but our salad greens provide the base for my favorite dishes for a few reasons. First, tender, leafy greens are meant to be consumed as fresh as possible.
I think many people are unfortunately accustomed to having low vitality salad greens that may have spent days, or even weeks in transit. We provide harvests of salad greens 365 days of the year- and the crisp flavors are a far stretch from the typical grocery store greens.
Next, the diversity of our greens are unrivaled. We can grow a greater selection of greens than what is offered from purveyors and with the addition of some seasonal wild greens, our guests get a completely unique salad designed for that particular day, sometimes including up to twenty different types of greens within one mix.
I guarantee most people have never had a salad with such diverse colors, textures, and flavors. Lastly, when you’re working with talented and passionate chefs like Chef Josh and his crew, it is extremely gratifying to grow something as simple as salad greens knowing they will put it on display in exquisite ways and showcase the farm’s offerings.
Sallie: Can you tell us about some of the guest experiences that are available at the Farm?
Derrick: Broadly speaking, the farm provides three main acts – a preserve, a classroom and a dining space. Our work towards creating a slice of paradise has turned the farm into the epicenter of the local ecology and nearly all kingdoms of the natural world are represented. So, our guests can come down any time to immerse themselves in the sights, sounds and smells of nature
Sam and I teach a variety of classes mostly centered on sustainability and self-reliance. You might find a week where we have a cooking demo, a composting class, an orchard tour, and a probiotic food discussion. A lot of our class offerings vary based on the season, but we love to host DIY mushroom log making and guest harvest classes where guests get to take a piece of the farm home with them.
And finally, our most popular and special guest experience is our seasonal Chef-Lead Garden Dinner. The experience starts with a tour of the garden by myself or Sam and often guests get to pluck herbs or veggies right off the vine.
The only thing better than Farm-to-Table is bringing the Table to Farm! Beginning in late Spring through late Fall (as long as the weather allows), we offer intimate dinners, paired with wine from our Sommelier at least three times each week (sometimes guests request a private dinner to celebrate a special occasion).
The sights, sounds, smells, textures, and of course, the tastes make for an unforgettable experience.
Interview with Josh Tomson, Executive Chef
A graduate of the French Culinary Institute in New York City and the New York Wine Tasting School, Chef Josh Tomson brings in over 20 years of culinary expertise and preference for local, organic, and sustainable products. He enjoys visiting farmers’ markets, and purchases local product whenever possible.
Throughout the years of his culinary career, Chef Tomson has been incorporating a farm-to-table philosophy and assisting the properties he worked for, to become more sustainable and green-friendly.
Prior to joining The Lodge at Woodloch, Chef Tomson gained rich national and international exposure at award-winning restaurants, inns and hotels in the United States, France (Chamonix) and Switzerland (Luzerne) – including The Hermitage Inn, Castine Inn, Ryland Inn, and Private Jet Catering – Jetstream Seasoning.
Chef Tomson enjoys collecting rare and valuable cookbooks, taking scenic drives in his VW Bus, playing golf, and working on his yard. His green thumb goes a long way in curating the property’s Farm-to-Table Farm into the menu, as well as providing guests with unique educational opportunities.
Sallie: Tell us about your philosophy towards food and specifically the cuisine you serve at The Lodge at Woodloch.
Josh: I personally like food that speaks for itself, and I feel very fortunate that we grow our own onsite. It really makes our work more meaningful, because simple ingredients can make for great food.
Sallie: You’ve written a cookbook called “Nurture with Nature” which is a very unique blend of recipes for eating as well as self-care. Would you share a couple of your favorite dishes and home spa treatment concoctions with us?
Josh: Of course, here are a few things that I know everyone would enjoy. In terms of the DIY Spa recipes, some of the guest favorites include the Rosemary Citrus Body Polish and the Soothing Bath Soaks.
Sallie: I know that locally-grown produce is key to your cooking. What are some of your favorite dishes that use what you grow at the Farm?
Kohlrabi has been a very versatile vegetable for us and we have been able to create tasty and interesting dishes with it. I personally enjoy using kohlrabi as a taco shell, because it creates a super crisp and refreshing flavor, which has received very positive feedback from our guests.
Sallie: When you have a day off, what do you do for your own wellness?
Josh: I like to recharge both my body and mind. I joined a local gym, and I enjoy walking and spending time outdoors, as much as the time allows me. In the summer months, which is my favorite season of the year, I spend my days off grilling with my family or fishing.
Sallie: If you had one wish for guests that visit The Lodge at Woodloch, what would that be?
Josh: I wish that every guest had the opportunity to attend one of the garden dinners to experience the passion that we all put into the cuisine that we offer.