Retreat For Artists Revives Farm Stand In Brewster

BREWSTER, NY — A simple farm stand on Starr Ridge Road is a symbol of the sea change in farming taking place across the country.

Fifteen years ago, an artist whose family owned one of the oldest continuously held family farms along the East Coast recognized that her own artistic community could both benefit from and contribute to it.

Emily Simoness, an eighth generation Ryder, co-founded SPACE on Ryder Farm with a two-fold mission: provide time and space for artists and innovators to develop new work while contributing to the sustainability and resourceful preservation of the farm. As its residency programs and events grew, SPACE helped restore and manage many of the farm’s historic buildings.

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Then, at the end of the 2018 growing season, Betsey Ryder retired after 40 years of growing organic vegetables, flowers and herbs.

It’s a familiar story.

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The average U.S. farmer is nearly 60 and nearly half of U.S. farmland is on the brink of changing ownership over the next two decades, according to the National Young Farmers Coalition, which says support for young farmers, who face significant challenges, “is essential if we are going to achieve food security, healthy communities, and protect natural resources into the future.”

Increasingly, owners of farms are non-farmers who hire experienced operators to manage the day-to-day operations, according to FarmTogether.

Ryder Farm is still owned by a board of family members. SPACE took on the agricultural operations and hired a young farm manager, Adam Mahon.

Mahon didn’t grow up farming, but it lured him in.

“In college I was confronting not only what are the things that are important to me but what feels authentic — a certain amount of physicality, certain amount of problem solving,” he told Patch. “I thought if I did something with plants I would be moving in the right direction.”

He liked the integrity, the “small is good” ethos and the tangibility. “What I create goes from me to you, you’re going to eat them this week.”

So he worked on several farms in a bunch of different places, and hooked into a vibrant network of small scale growers. “I had my ear to the ground,” he said. “SPACE popped up and I thought ‘I’ll throw my hat in the ring.'”

In the pandemic years, he concentrated on sustaining some acreage in production and creating a CSA, but always kept the two old buildings facing the road in mind.

“Those structures have been there a long time,” he said. “There was still so much potential, specially since many people have known those farm stands for decades. I really wanted to start building them up and build our retail out of that.”

Now it has become the main focal retail space.

“Things are looking quite happy in there,” he said. “I’m super pleased with how everything has been set up and how it’s looking from the road. We’ve had great interactions with people who popped in. We’re trying to get people re-acclimated.”

They even have online check-out.

“I try to pack that thing every Friday by noon. We get a rush from people coming home after work. But there are some things I keep in the stand all the time,” he said. “The stand is open for everybody’s convenience, any time you happen to be passing by over the weekend.”

He has more plans.

The farm’s enormous wooden wagon would make a great display this fall with pumpkins, hay bales and winter squash.

And this winter he plans to give a lot of attention to the farm’s greenhouses.

“We used to have a plant sale, but have been too busy these past two years,” he said. I would love to get into potted plants, help get people’s gardens started.”

I’m experimenting with cut flowers a lot more,” he said. “Our dahlias were beautiful last year and I didn’t have a market for them.”

Mahon does interact with the artists as much as he can.

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“It’s a lot of grounds but it’s an intimate team,” he said.

Even more than a logistical partnership, the farm is central to the ethos of SPACE, which has served more than 1,400 residents, established one of the first residencies for parent-artists and their children, mentored over 75 young professionals through its internship and fellowship program and become one of the most sought-after artist residency programs in the country.

“The food that grows here goes to our Putnam neighbors through the farm stand and our partnership with Second Chance Foods, but also directly to the artists that come for residencies through our culinary program,” said Kelly Burdick, the Executive Director at SPACE on Ryder Farm. “Residents are fed three communal meals a day—with foods focused on hyper-local produce (from the farm), sustainability, and seasonality. Fueled and nourished by these meals and the conversations that are had over them, our residents use their time at SPACE to generate sustenance for the soul through their work.”

SPACE’s farm stand is located at 406 Starr Ridge Road. Parking is available directly in front of the stand. Payments for the fresh organic produce can be made in cash, check, or by using an online checkout via a QR code available at the stand.

Any produce that is not sold is donated to community partner Second Chance Foods each week.

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