Name of Farm
Ryder Farm Cottage Industries
400 Starr Ridge Road, Brewster
For this interview I had the pleasure of meeting with Betsy Ryder whose passion for the farm shows in the twinkling of her blue eyes as she speaks about it. Betsy was more than generous with her time during our interview showing me the farm, the gardens, the wonderful old houses on the property and all the great stories that go with them.
Ryder Farm is a fully certified organic farm that’s been in Betsy’s family since 1795. As with many of the local farms, this one too began as a dairy farm. Currently the exciting news here is that in the near future grazing animals will be added to the farm and beef production will be underway!
How long has the farm been in the family?
Since 1795, our great, great, great grandfather Alizer moved here from Joe’s Hill just down the road. The story is written that he came down the road with his ox cart, bags of chicken and geese, and with his family in tow. Generations since have been raised on the farm.
The farm is held as a family corporation so we have yearly meetings. It was established many years ago that each 4th of July we’d hold our annual meeting that would double as a family reunion. As young a girl I would come to the farm every year from Long Island where my parents and I lived. After graduating from Northeastern University in Boston, I was commuting back and forth from LI to Boston trying to find a place to live. During the commute I would go by the farm and stop to visit. The matriarch who was looking after the farm at that time and I became fast friends; she was certainly a mentor in my life. One day it just clicked that this was where I belonged and I’ve been here ever since.
How many acres are on the farm?
The farm is 120 acres – 8 are currently under cultivation for vegetables, herbs and flowers. Then we have 8 under cultivation for hay and another 60 acres of fenced pasture that we’re hoping to use for grazing beef soon.
What do you grow?
I like to say we grow A-Z arugula to zucchini.
How has the farm changed over the years?
Changes have mostly come by way of size and available land. As one generation retires other pieces of property are made available and we begin to farm another field. We have upper gardens, lower gardens, even a garden that in the gracious old days, was a tennis court.
Where do you sell your produce?
Our main market has been NYC’s Green Market at Union Square; we have been going there for years and have a very faithful following. We also participate in the Brewster Market on Wednesday and Saturday. We have a CSA and a road-side stand that’s open 24/7. It’s self-serve and on the honor system. There’s a freezer there filled with produce and herbs.
Do you participate in CSA and/or farmer’s market?
We’ve been doing CSA for about 10 years. We started with 10 people and now we have about 100 members. We do still have a few openings available for this season.
Tell us about your most successful season?
I’d say this season because over the years we’ve been having more land available so the property just keeps getting bigger and bigger. We’ve doubled and doubled the farming area again. For a decade now we have our favorite grower Fuod from Bangladesh with us. He went to school at the University of CA, Santa Cruz in one of the first organic growing programs. He really oversees the growing and does a fantastic job.
What was your hardest season and why?
Just three years ago when the Late Blight struck the tomatoes. It was very disappointing to have a whole season without any tomatoes. We’d go down to the market with half a box of tomatoes, where in previous seasons we’d go with 10-15 boxes full of tomatoes. It was a sad season for tomatoes.
What is your favorite thing to grow and why?
We’ve long enjoyed dahlias, they are very pretty though unfortunately they don’t come in until August and they’re in their prime just before frost hits. They are very pretty though. They call flowers food for the spirit and they are a beautiful flower. Though of course, food is the essence. If you ask me what my favorite food to eat is, that would be kale. Very hardy green kale, when I don’t have it I actually come to crave it.
Is there a lesson that you’ve learned farming that you might apply to life?
As a registered nurse, there is tremendous parallel between the worlds of farming and life, the essence of which is nurturing. Life requires certain physical elements, largely hydration and resistance to disease and harm and competition for resources. This is true for people and plants alike. Although the uptake is unique, we each seek to thrive. A lesson is that the force of life is a strong one. Under the best of conditions, the strength of a plant can be bold, whether in its production of fruit, or the destruction of a tree by a vine, for example. People too can use their strength in productive and destructive manners. Likewise, there is a strong will to live even under adverse conditions. Plant your garden and your life with nurturing, time and patience.
Do you have a favorite recipe from the farm that you’d like to share?
I have a universal recipe that’s good for all vegetables – leafy greens, sliced beets, or summer squash. Start by covering the bottom of the pan with a little oil (use the oil of your flavor choice – sesame, olive oil, canola) season to taste with garlic or onions or both then lightly sauté. Add ¼” water and bring to boil add the chopped or sliced vegetables and cover. When the water is gone the vegetables are ready.