Name of Farm
49 David’s Way, Bedford Hills
Okay, I admit it – I came away from this interview fantasizing about having a goat farm and making goat cheese! How could I not, it was an idyllic setting complete with goats and gardens and for someonek who is a fan of both – it was a little bit of paradise. When you step onto the property you are transported, you are no longer in suburban Westchester. The gardens, the livestock, the goats and – its a perfect spot. Meeting with Lisa Schwartz was great, her knowledge, passion and love of the farm is wonderful. When we visited the goats it was clear they loved her too. They all came over to her in such a playful way – it was almost as though they were smiling to see her. They playfully tugged at her clothes and nuzzled up close to her – can you see why I left fantasizing about this? If you’re a goat cheese lover you want to try Rainbeau Ridge cheeses, they are creamy, delicious and fresh – did I say fresh – yum! On Fridays you can get the cheeses from the farm, otherwise they are available at the Yorktown and Pleasantville Farmers Markets.
How long has the farm been in the family (history of the farm)
We’re celebrating 10 years this October! Once upon a time this was farm country and in the early 1900’s this property was a gentlemen’s farm with wheat fields and an orchard and cows but when we bought it, it was a suburban property.
How many acres are on the farm?
I hesitate to talk about acreage because so much of the land is in woodlands and is not under cultivation. I prefer to say talk about the area we use for gardening, which for our produce is about 1/4 acre. Then we allocate about 2 1/2 – 3 acres for our livestock which includes our goats, a couple of cows, llamas, sheep and a lot of poultry -chickens, guinea hens, peacocks and turkeys.
What do you grow?
Over the years we’ve grown the full range of what you can grown have in the Northeast greens but not just lettuce, spinach and arugula. We’ve had as many as 30 varieties of lettuce at one point including all the Asian greens and specialty greens. We have an eye toward growing things that are just a little more interesting and different than what you might find at the supermarket. We do beans, tomatoes – where we’ve had over 12 different varities, peppers, eggplants, artichokes which are a bit of a speciality, root vegetables and lots of herbs. I love variety and color – to me growing a vegetable garden beautifully is as good as growing a flower garden.
Then we have the cheese – we’re a farmstead cheese operation which means we do ‘grow’ the cheese all the way from the milk to the end product. Our goat cheese is probably what we’re known for most. I started experimenting after I got my first two goats ten years ago. We went into full scale production late in 2005. We breed the goats, have babies in Spring which kicks off our production and we’re generally in cheese from April to November. We are seasonal, goats breed once a year unlike cows so we follow a seasonal operation. We don’t breed off season because for me that’s not sustainable and we’ve tried to follow a model of sustainable farming here in the suburbs. Sustainability has lots of different meanings but for me in the context of the goats, it means doing right by those animals. We pay a lot of attention to how we raise them and keep them so I wouldn’t want to trick their cycle by breeding them off cycle.
How has the farm changed over the years?
In its simplest sense its grown. I started out with a pair of goats so we went from 2 goats to milking 36. We could have 50 goats on the farm in various stages. We started our garden and by year eight we had enough growing to support a CSA of 125 families. It was actually not a full CSA, it was more of a membership CSA but we did support 125 families. We added children’s programing in 2004 for different age groups. Kids learn where their food comes from and how to be comfortable in a farming environment. Besides having award-winning goat cheese, having the programs for kids has been the most satisfying thing that we do. We’ve also started cooking classes for adults and the kids. Over the years people have lost connection to their foods. So we’ve helped reinforce that people can enjoy eating in the season. We’ve try to help people embrace what’s available in the farmers markets and give them ways to use it.
Where do you sell your produce?
The cheeses are sold mostly in high end specialty stores or cheese stores in the area. We do ship as far as Boston and Washington DC, we also do farmers markets in Pleasantville and Yorktown. On Friday afternoons we sell off the farm. We also sell to some lovely restaurants from here down to the city.
Do you participate in CSA and/or farmer’s market?
We did up until 2 years ago.
Tell us about your most successful season?
The summer of 2010 was our hay day. We had a fabulous garden manager who was able to coax the most amazing quantity, quality and variety from the garden. It was the peak goat cheese year for us, we won 2 awards from the American Cheese Society for our Meridian and ChevreLait and the kids programs were at record numbers. But each season has had something really special about it – number of births, health of the herd . . .
What was your hardest season and why?
I’d say early on, I started this with no background in farming or animal husbandry. The husbandry part was challenging. I visited every farm that would have me. We had some losses early on it was a very heavy burden, it still weighs heavily on me to know we have all these lives in our hands. We still work our hardest to keep everyone healthy. I have 2 goats that shouldn’t be alive and they may not produce which from a farming standpoint may not make sense but from a humanitarian standpoint, it’s a life and it matters.
What is your favorite thing to grow or raise, and why?
I’m partial to the goats – the minute we start getting in the arc of the season – the days get shorter and cooler, I start to get sad knowing that the season is coming to a close. One of my favorite moments is that anticipation of Spring when babies are back on the ground and that verdant green color that we have is everywhere. So I think that moment of rebirth is my favorite but I associate that mostly with the goats and making cheese. Walking into the cheese house in the morning and smelling that curd and knowing without even seeing it or testing it that I have a good batch, is an amazing moment. The birth and the cheese production is my finest moment.
Is there a lesson that you’ve learned farming that you might apply to life?
I’ve learned and grown so much over 10 years. One thing is that life throws curves at you. You can plan and try to anticipate but you have to adapt and you have to move on. It’s the case when your crop fails, when something goes wrong in the herd, when an employee quits. I’d do everything I could to not let those things happen and when they did I’d get pretty down and out about it but I’ve learned to handle those things in a more managed sense. Life throws you curves, weather throws you curves and you just have to learn to work your way out of it and move on.
Do you have a favorite recipe from the farm that you’d like to share?
This is from our book, “Over the Rainbeau Garden”. Grillade with Creamy Pasta – Preheat the grill to medium high, then mince 3-4 cloves of garlic and saute it with a bit of olive oil until just fragrant. Slice up zucchini, yellow squash, Roma tomatoes and an onion then brush the vegetables with the oil & garlic mixture and grill until desired tenderness. In the meantime, cook some orecchiette or penne pasta – when the pasta has reached the desired tenderness drain it reserving 1/3 cup of the water then return it to the pasta pot. Add about 4 ounces of goat cheese to the pasta water and whisk it to liquefy. Toss the liquefied goat cheese into the pasta. Add the grilled vegetables, the olive oil and garlic mix and toss thoroughly. Crumble another ounce or two of goat cheese over the pasta, salt & pepper and enjoy!