Paulette Peduzzi, head of the kitchen at North Country School, grew up on a Minnesota dairy farm with two brothers and two sisters.
"We were self-sufficient," Paulette said. "We did everything ourselves - as did most of our neighbors. We had a big vegetable garden, canned and froze food for the long winter, raised beef, pigs and chickens and slaughtered them. We had our own milk and eggs. If I got store-bought cookies, I thought of them as a treat. I couldn't participate in all the after-school activities because I had farm chores at home. As a child, I didn't appreciate the benefits of country life."
Fortunately, most of her friends were in similar circumstances. Living on the farm, Paulette spent summers working in the fields and learned to drive a tractor when she was just 6.
(Photo — Yvona Fast)
"There were always chores," she said. "Field work, barn chores, house cleaning, cooking, baking. My least favorite job was picking the rocks from the field before the crops were planted so the farm machinery wouldn't hit the stones and break the equipment."
They raised alfalfa, corn and oats for animal feed.
After high school, Paulette attended college for occupational therapy. After two years, she needed a break and wanted something different, so she moved to Wyoming where she worked as a nurse's aide in a nursing home.
However, she had the urge to travel, and, with some of her friends, loaded up her dad's pickup truck and went south.
"For three months, we toured and saw a lot of our country. I had never been out of Minnesota until I was 19. I'd never seen mountains," she said. "It was the middle of the winter; we were camping and sleeping in the truck, so we needed to get to someplace warmer. We toured the south and everything west of the Mississippi - from Key West to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, down into Mexico, hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon, the coast of California, the Redwoods and Mt. Rushmore. We met so many people - from so many different cultures."
After three months, Paulette returned to Minnesota for her brother's wedding. She stayed on to help her aging grandmother, who needed help around the house. She got a job as a cook in a family restaurant. But after a year, her grandmother needed 24-hour care and moved to a nursing home. And Paulette, still bitten by the travel bug, headed to Europe with her sister.
"We got a Eurail Pass and stayed in youth hostels," she said. "Toward the end of our three months in Europe, we found a restaurant in the Swiss Alps that needed help. My sister returned home, but I stayed and worked there another month, until the restaurant closed at the end of the season. It was beautiful, but a little lonely. With the money I'd earned I traveled alone to Greece. There I met some people who asked if I wanted to join them in starting a restaurant and campground on the shores of the Aegean Sea. I stayed, and worked there for six years, though I did return home for visits."
Paulette learned a lot in Greece.
"I learned to cook Greek food," she said. "I recall once I went to the hills with a group of women and picked all sorts of wild greens - dandelions, wild herbs, etc. We brought them back and made spanakopita. We used a broomstick to roll out the dough. There was no spinach in these spanakopita."
After six years in Greece, Paulette returned to Minnesota. The American friends she'd made in Greece were from the east coast, so she moved to Westchester County and worked there for a few years.
Some of her friends wanted to start a business in the Adirondacks, and bought the High Peaks Base Camp. It had previously been a girls' camp, and had a house, barn, cabins and tent sites.
"We worked hard to renovate the barn," she said. "We made the lower part into the Wood Parlor Restaurant. The upper floor and loft we converted to dormitory style lodging. Skiers would stay there, because it was cheap lodging, a bed and breakfast type place. In the summer, we stocked the pond with trout for people to catch. Then we would clean and grill the fresh-caught fish for them."
Paulette quickly fell in love with the beauty of this area.
"I came to love the mountains, the lakes and the small communities. People are friendly, good neighbors. I enjoy the wonderful outdoor activities. We're so privileged to be able to live here."
During this time, Paulette met her husband.
"He worked at Ward Lumber, and we made frequent visits there while renovating the barn," she said.
Three years later, they got married. When her son was born, Paulette decided she needed a job with regular income. That is when she started working at North Country School. That was 17 years ago.
"I met people from NCS when they came to eat at the Wood Parlor Restaurant. I liked what I heard, and liked the concept. I embraced the history, ideals, values and the living and learning environment. I believe in fresh, healthy food, and liked the food philosophy. And it wasn't just talk - they were doing what they were preaching. At North Country School, we raise everything and process everything for winter storage. It takes a lot of work and time. But it takes me back to my childhood - this is what my mom did. I wanted my children to have this."
North Country School raises its own vegetables, chickens, pigs and lambs.
"We buy meat and bison locally from farmers we know, so we know how it's raised. We try to buy local products when we can, like honey and apples. We do buy some things, like flour, grains and dairy products at the supermarket. Last year, we also made 97 gallons of maple syrup from our own sugar works."
"Children are part of the environment. The kids help plant seeds in the greenhouses, and go through the whole process. We start lettuce in the greenhouses every two weeks and transplant it outside, so we have lettuce from our garden from April through October. During the potato harvest, all the children help. They bring in 4,000 to 6,000 pounds of potatoes annually. They start their day with chores and work jobs, just like I used to do. That's followed by breakfast and a full day of academics. It's a community of which I love being a part. My children grew up here. My daughter is now in her last year at North Country School, and my son just started college. Both of my children had the rewarding experience of spending their summers here at Camp Treetops.
"In public school, most of the food is processed. Here we make everything from scratch. We bake our own bread, make our own granola cereal. The seasons change, and the food changes. I can try different things - different recipes. Many kids who come here have never experienced some vegetables like kohlrabi or grains like quinoa. We put on an annual Thanksgiving dinner for the families from food we have raised: turkeys, potatoes, winter squash, pumpkins and green beans.
"I believe it's important for children to realize where their food comes from. In the process of helping with the farm, they learn to be resourceful and make decisions. We are committed to simple and sustainable living, making responsible choices about our use of resources."
Based on an interview with Paulette Peduzzi. Yvona Fast can be reached at