established in 2002
Rainbeau Ridge, a small scale sustainable 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, experience the awe of nature, gain familiarity with animals and with the cycle of life, and could learn to cook, eat and savor locally produced produce and cheese.
Not the obvious next chapter in their lives, childhood sweethearts Lisa, a former management consultant, and Mark, a young retiree from the financial industry, grew up in Poughkeepsie NY and are now co-farmers in there Westchester County backyard. 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.
“Since the late 1980‘s 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 with hard work and TLC,” Lisa recalls. Early on, 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.
But Lisa’s full throttle farming was 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. I loved wandering the rice fields where CSA’s had their roots. At the same time, ‘sustainable local farming’ was percolating back in the US.” It all seemed to point in the same direction for her. When the family returned to Bedford in 2001, she reestablished a chicken coop (the hens produce beautifully café au lait and sky-blue-colored eggs) and a kitchen garden.
With the basics restored, Lisa dove into cheesemaking, buying her first pair of milking does in 2002 and that was that! "People asked me how I started. I answer, 'I bought two goats,'” explains Lisa. After an exhausting search, she drove in a van to Elmira, NY to acquire her new partners. Trimming her (formerly) manicured 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 was 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 renovate the apple orchard. Cows, horses and llamas were among the newer arrivals.
The Schwartz' continue to move toward their goals or preserving open space and helping people connect to the importance 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. In its time of large production, Rainbeau Ridge chevre was available in many regional shops and restaurants, and became well known for its adaptable and tangy flavors. Rainbeau Ridge's Roots, Buds, and Sprouts children’s on-farm education classes were really popular with parents and kids alike from their start in 2005 until they were closed for the near future in 2012.
Using organic and natural methods, best practices of biodiversity, composting, and more, it was clear that beekeeping would be an important addition to the farm’s activities. In making this a family affair, it wasn’t long before Karen Sabath, Lisa’s sister (who had already joined the effort in the development and teaching of the successful children’s programming) jumped in with both feet and became the beekeeper. Not only have the bees contributed enormously to the productivity and healthy environment of Rainbeau Ridge, but Karen has become the pied piper of bees, spreading her enthusiasm and knowledge throughout the community. The bees, busy pollinating the orchard, weren’t the only things humming. In some seasons, 40 new (goat) kids were born to the herd. Some were kept as replacement stock but many found 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 helping in the garden. “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.”
Another overseas assignment necessitated a retrenchment of the public access to the farm. Nevertheless Rainbeau Ridge continues to grow produce and raise animals. Looking to the future, the couple sees the farm's activities, whether for the public or just for its own family and friends enjoyment, as a living on-going experiment in sustainability. “I want to live authentically and share what I can with my family, especially my grandchildren, and to whatever extent possible, the community. I'm living the dream."
now in 2018
Rainbeau Ridge is actively engaged in supporting local groups and remaining a resource to the community.
While not open to the public, Lisa is back on farm with volunteers. Always ready to help community members who have interest in learning and starting their own efforts, Rainbeau Ridge’s philosophy of being a model of “accessible agriculture” continues its commitment by encouraging people to engage in any number of ways from shopping farmers markets to full scale farming. To this end, Rainbeau Ridge has been the site for many who meet on the subject of farming and sustainability, including Bedford 2020, Hudson Valley Natural Beekeepers, the Herb Society of New York, Westchester Land Trust and garden clubs.