Made in Ghent on the farm

On a Thursday morning, Mimi Beaven stands over a restaurant stove, preparing to make paté. The Black Freedom Ranger chicken that provided the meat on her cutting board grew in the pasture outside her window.

Mimi and her husband, Richard, have built a rare combination — a working farm with a commercial kitchen and farm store. Visitors can find fresh eggs, blueberry icecream with lemon swirl, sourdough bread and cuts of meat from ham to pig’s tail.

Mimi Beaven prepares to make paté at Little Ghet Farm. By Kate Abbott

Mimi Beaven prepares to make paté at Little Ghet Farm. By Kate Abbott

Word has spread about the Made in Ghent farm store at Little Ghent Farm, just off County Route 22. People show up having tried one of Mimi’s chocolate salt cookies at a friend’s house.

Eugenie Sills of Harlemville, N.Y., recently gave a jar of peach jam to a neighbor. She found the farm through Instagram in the spring, she said, and she has watched their following grow since then. She has come back to tour the fields and rolling chicken coops, to meet young chicks and enjoy paté and fresh eggs, onion relish and garlic scape butter. And she will come in the fall for entrepreneurial inpiration. Little Ghent is bigger than a farm shop, she said: It’s a hub. People connect here.

Along with original recipes and sometimes unusual ingredients, the Beavens are launching workshops to encourage local enterprise. On Sept. 23 and 24, their friend David Hieatt, co-founder of DO Lectures, will talk about building a brand with very little money. Farms are about growth and productivity, Richard said, and for him that means the growth of ideas, local businesses and community.

Richard Beaven checks the roosting boxes for eggs. Photo by Kate Abbott

Richard Beaven checks the roosting boxes for eggs. Photo by Kate Abbott

Mimi and Richard planned their own venture for many years, while she ran a restaurant and Richard went into advertising — he is now a professional photographer with work in the Wall Street Journal. Now they have built it from scratch.

After 10 years in Westchester county, coming to Ghent on weekends, in November 2012 they bought 75 acres a mile away from their old house.

It was an old farm, in local memory the Francis farm, Richard said. By then another family had owned it for more than 40 years, and the place had fallen into disrepair. The Beavens could not save the original house and barns, but they have preserved the land and rebuilt using materials from the old buildings in the new ones.

So they designed their own place — a 21st-century farm.

“People are so accustomed to seeing farms that have been here for a long time,” he said. “If you start with a clean sheet, what does a farm look like today?”

It looks rustic and modern — two-sided buildings made half from reclaimed boards and beams and half with new cedar siding in black paint. Fields and woods stretch uphill with a seasonal stream running through.

Bees hum in four top-bar hives. Some 200 chickens and laying hens scratch in the pastures in warm weather, and pigs root in the woods and fields. The farm has earned animal welfare approval, Richard said, and though they are not certified organic their animals get organic feed with fruit or bread from the kitchen or apples and hickory nuts from farm trees.

Both Richard and Mimi grew up knowing farms. Her father was a French chef, she said, and her parents had a restaurant in the Cotswalds, in Southwest England. The next door neighbor had a farm, and she visited at lambing time and began to spend more time there — if she was was not at school, asleep or doing chores, she would be at the farm.

She went through agricultural school and ended up working at a restaurant to support herself.

“I ended up running it,” she said.

She moved to London when she met Richard, and when they lived outside New York City she volunteered at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture

Little Ghent Farm grew from there. In these last years the Beavens have expanded into the farm store, and this summer they have offered a young farmer, Jesse Tolz, land to grow vegetables and wildflowers.

“A lot of young growers who apprentice, who have a passion for what they do, reach a point where they have no access to land,” Richard said.

In a plot surrounded by wildflowers — bachelors’ buttons, California poppies, Queen Anne’s Lace, Yarrow, cosmos, cornflower, choreopsis, gloriosa daisy — Tolz has laid down ground cover, legumes to nourish the soil, and planted vegetables in beds.

He sews seeds directly into the field, he said, rather than transplanting, because a plant that grows in the ground can establish a taproot.

A neighbor ploughed the field so Tolz could plant, Richard said. Another neighbor has a facility for processing the chickens. That sense of community matters, he said. Farms have always been a key part of their surroundings, and as farms have been wiped out that feeling has gone away. Here, visitors come to take photographs in the wildflowers, and the local farmers band together.

“It’s not a competition,” he said.

They all want to grow the idea of buying food from a farm, he said, and to help people reconnect with the places and people who make their food. When they  work together, everyone benefits including the people who eat.

“Farming’s always had that reputation, he said, and we love that.”

A version of this story (updated here) ran first at Rural Intelligence. Many thanks to editor Lisa Green.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *