Making a Dream a Reality
Rainbeau Ridge, a “real and accessible” farm, is located in Bedford Hills, NY, forty miles northwest of New York City.
In 2002, owners Lisa and Mark Schwartz set out to create a place where
people young and old could feel at home, connect to the land, sense the awe of nature, gain a comfort with animals and with the cycle of life, and could learn to cook, eat and savor locally produced cheese and produce. See Mission of Rainbeau Ridge.
Childhood sweethearts growing up in Poughkeepsie, NY, Lisa, a former management consultant, and Mark, a young retiree from the financial industry, are now co-farmers. Years of endless drives through the Hudson Valley’s countryside gave them their appreciation for land and likely planted the seeds that “someday we’ll own a farm”. But neither had ever done farm-chores. Furthermore, they now lived in Westchester County, not frequently known for its farms. Mark’s fondness for cows was fueled by annual visits to the Dutchess County Fair so it was no surprise that Destiny, the Kerry calf, was his 50th birthday present! But to realize their dream in the heart of Bedford was no small challenge.
“We were living like suburbanites but I wanted to take advantage of the beautiful land here. It’s pretty amazing what you can extract from a backyard,” Lisa recalls. So ten years ago, with her young children as her partners, she constructed a chicken coop, took up horseback riding at her daughter’s insistence, planted a small garden, fell in love with farming and never looked back.
Lisa’s starts at farming were interrupted by four influential years living in Japan. “In Japan I learned to shop daily and seasonally. It’s there that I developed an appreciation for local products, seasonal cooking and food presentation. At the same time, ‘sustainable local farming’ was sort of in the air back in the US.” It all seemed to point in the same direction for her. When the family returned in 2001, she reestablished a chicken coop (the hens produce beautifully café au lait and sky-blue-colored eggs) and a kitchen garden.
And then Lisa dove into cheesemaking, and that was that! "People asked me how I started. I answer, 'I bought a goat,'” explains Lisa. In 2002, the first two goats arrived. Trimming her fingernails, she set out to learn milking and the fundamentals of cheese making. In 2003, she expanded the garden by reclaiming a children’s playground area and began CAP (community agriculture partnership), a membership-based vegetable-share program which has been fully subscribed to each year. In 2004, the swimming pool was filled in to expand the gardening space; bees, honey and lambs were added to the farm; and they began to reclaim the apple orchard. Cows, horses and llamas are among the newer arrivals.
The Schwartz' continue to move toward their goals or preserving open space and helping people connect to the pleasures of nature, farming and local food. The acreage has been added to Westchester County’s Agricultural District. After a cheese-making apprenticeship in France in 2003, Lisa has become an accomplished, state-licensed cheese-maker. Rainbeau Ridge chevre is available in many local shops and restaurants, and is becoming well known for its adaptable and tangy flavors. And Rainbeau Ridge's Roots, Buds, and Sprouts children’s on-farm education classes are really popular with parents and kids alike.
The bees, busy pollinating the orchard, aren’t the only things humming. This spring 40 new kids were born to the herd. Some are kept as replacement stock but many find homes in the area. "They make great pets, companions and brush cutters,” says Schwartz.
On the farm, each day begins at sunrise, as Lisa quickly found out that farming is a 24/7 commitment. Despite the long hours, she loves the work and loves having the support of her husband who can often be seen supervising the activity. “But I’m the less talented of the two of us,” comments Mark. “Lisa has the courage and perseverance to live out a dream. She’s the best example to our children and the community." Mark describes Lisa as “an excellent manager, a visionary, and an intense worker, whether it’s as goat ob/gyn or a field worker.”
Looking to the future, the couple sees the progress made as just the beginning. “I don’t want to grow to the point of losing control, but we are on the verge of expansion. This is just a little of what we hope to accomplish over the next ten years. CAP will grow, the education program will expand and we’ll add to the cooking program too,” says Lisa. “And maybe a TV show too,” muses Mark.