To welcome the start of autumn, family-owned orchard and vegetable grower Fishkill Farms hosted a community-themed Open Kitchen dinner, complete with fresh apples, local spirits, and food artisans from the area. From a cheese maker to a farmers’ market coordinator, meet some of the tastemakers who were in attendance.
Colin McGrath, Head Cheese Maker, Sprout Creek Farm
Colin McGrath has a background in cooking and a degree from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America, but the concept of Sprout Creek as a center for education, farming, community building, and spiritual growth has compelled him to continue making cheese there for the past decade. “I’ve always been attracted to cheese,” he says. “Even after 10 years, the mystique and artistry still capture me.” His products, which are made and packaged by hand by one of the creamery’s four employees, naturally change flavor with the seasons: the creamery’s cows are grass-fed during warmer months, and in the down months, the livestock eat feed harvested from Sprout Creek’s fields. It’s all part of McGrath’s philosophy: “If you make cheese in the Old World style, the cheese always determines its own fate.”
Mark Doyle, Farm Manager, Fishkill Farms
At Fishkill, Mark Doyle is a jack of all trades, handling everything from maintenance and construction to the farm’s finances. Although the Hudson Valley is an integral part of his daily life, it wasn’t always that way: he was born and raised in Cape Town, South Africa and spent his days ocean sailing until he landed in the region in 1989. He’s fallen in love with the valley’s rich agricultural heritage, thanks largely in part to the farm: “Fishkill Farms is blessed with a unique combination of superb soils, good water supply, an excellent microclimate, and unbeatable farmers’ markets,” he raves. “We have been able to hire a talented and hardworking team, and that makes all the difference in a business that is so unpredictable and difficult.”
Andy Crown Brennan and Polly Giragosian, Founders, Aaron Burr Cidery
Andy Crown Brennan and Polly Giragosian, Aaron Burr Cidery’s founders, farmers, and fermenters, never intended to go into cider-making; the husband-and-wife duo both began as artists in New York City. Then 10 years ago, they moved upstate, and when the 2008 economic collapse forced them to make a business out of their farm, started selling their ciders. For their trademark Homestead cider, the couple not only sources apples that have been grown from orchards like Fishkill Farms, but also incorporates apples grown from the town’s abandoned and wild trees. According to Brennan, cider character doesn’t come so much from the variety as it does how the fruit is grown. “Why should the orchard stop at an imaginary line?” he asks. “I don’t want to blend mountain top apples with hillside apples, or north slope apples with south slope apples. I want to discover what those differences mean to cider.”
Jeffrey Baker, Owner, and Timothy Welly, Distiller, Hillrock Estate Distillery
Despite Jeffrey Baker’s successful career as a real estate investor in Manhattan, he always felt the rural life beckon — a throwback to his days growing up on farms in western New York. So for the past 20 years, he’s held a second career in farming, first with one of the region’s first pasture-raised sustainable beef operations, and now with Hillrock Estate, a distillery founded on his passion for farming, fine spirits, and the rich history of the Hudson Valley.
Hillrock Estate Distillery began when he and his wife discovered their house had been built in 1806 by a Revolutionary war captain who became a successful grain merchant after the war, and that two-thirds of barley and one-half of rye for the entire country was grown in New York state. He brought on Maker’s Mark veteran Dave Pickerell and later Timothy Welly as distillers. “When we made our first batch of single malt,” Jeffrey recalls, “everyone stopped work to taste the whiskey coming off the still. The whiskey was stamped with rich notes of clove and cinnamon.” They’re still committed to expressing that terroir, growing heirloom barley, rye, and corn organically, floor malting and smoking grain traditionally, and pot distilling and bottling their whiskeys in small batches by hand, all on the estate.
The Veggie Crew, Fishkill Farms
The “veggie crew” at Fishkill Farms grows more than 150 varieties of vegetables across over 20 acres of land from seed to harvest, also packing, and selling product through the farm store, markets, and CSA programs. In addition, they also run a miniature farm open to the public that allows customers to pick vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Says farmers’ market coordinator MaryKate Chillemi: “Our vegetables not only taste incredible, but look beautiful and have an exceptional shelf life, all because of the love and pride we put into the work we do.”
Get to know more about Fishkill Farms’ dinner guests in our video below!