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Little Ghent Farm Bridges Farming, Food And Community

By Katherine Abbott

On a Thursday morning, Mimi Beaven stands over a restaurant stove, preparing to make paté. The Black Freedom Ranger chicken that provided the meat on her cutting board grew in the pasture outside her window.

Mimi and her husband, Richard, have built a rare combination — a working farm with a commercial kitchen and farm store. Visitors can find fresh eggs, blueberry ice cream with lemon swirl, sourdough bread and cuts of meat from ham to pig’s tail.

Word has spread about the Made in Ghent farm store at Little Ghent Farm, just off County Route 22, and so have their products. People show up having tried one of Mimi’s chocolate salt cookies at a friend’s house. Eugenie Sills of Harlemville, N.Y., recently gave a jar of peach jam to a neighbor.

Sills found the farm through Instagram in the spring, she says, and she’s watched their following grow since then. She has come back to tour the fields and rolling chicken coops, to meet young chicks and enjoy paté and fresh eggs, onion relish and garlic scape butter. And she will come in the fall for entrepreneurial inspiration. Little Ghent is bigger than a farm shop, she says: it’s a hub. People connect here. 

Photo courtesy Richard Beaven.

Along with original recipes and sometimes unusual ingredients, the Beavens are launching workshops to encourage local enterprise. On Sept. 23 and 24, their friend David Hieatt, co-founder of DO Lectures, will talk about building a brand with very little money. Farms are about growth and productivity, Richard says, and for him that means the growth of ideas, local businesses and community.

Mimi and Richard planned their own venture for many years, while she ran a restaurant and Richard went into advertising — he is now a professional photographer with work in the Wall Street Journal (hence the gorgeous images on Instagram). They have built a dream from scratch.

After 10 years in Westchester County, coming to Ghent on weekends, they bought 75 acres, an old farm fallen into disrepair. They could not save the original house and barns, but they have rebuilt using materials from the old buildings and designed their own place — a 21st-century farm.

“People are so accustomed to seeing farms that have been here for a long time,” he says. “If you start with a clean slate, what does a farm look like today?”

It looks rustic and modern — buildings made half from reclaimed boards and beams and half with new cedar siding in black paint.

Bees hum in four top-bar hives. Some 200 chickens and laying hens scratch in the pastures, and pigs root in the woods and fields. The animals get organic feed, Richard says, with treats from the kitchen or apples and hickory nuts from farm trees.

He and Mimi grew up knowing farms. Her father was a French chef, and she spent time between his restaurant and a neighboring farm. She went through agricultural school and ended up working at a restaurant to support herself.

“I ended up running it,” she says.

She moved to London when she met Richard, and when they lived outside New York City she volunteered at Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

Little Ghent Farm grew from there. In these last few years the Beavens have expanded into the farm store, and this summer they’ve offered a young farmer, Jesse Tolz, land to grow vegetables and wildflowers.

A neighbor plowed the field so Tolz could plant. Another neighbor helps to process the Little Ghent chickens. That sense of community matters, Richard says. Farms have always been a key part of their surroundings, and as farms have been wiped out that feeling has faded. Here visitors take photographs in the wildflowers, and the local farmers band together.

“Farming’s always had that reputation,” he says, “and we love that.”

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Posted by Lisa Green on 08/17/15 at 01:42 PM • Permalink

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