Monthly Archives: September 2015

The Hudson Experience. ENST 291. 

This week we visited three sites in Columbia County: Frederic Church’s estate–Olana, the City of Hudson, and Letterbox Farm, located just outside of Hudson.

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We consulted class resources about mid-Hudson counties after our trip to get a better sense of how Hudson fits into Columbia. These facts are helpful for putting Hudson in the context of Columbia County, and are referenced to our experience below:

  • Columbia county has a population of 66 thousand, the second lowest of the 6 mid-Hudson Valley counties.
  • A median income of $56,000 the second lowest in the Hudson Valley.
  • A rural population of 73%, the highest country.
  • A population with 28.5% BA degrees or above for adults 25 years or older. (although still relatively high in comparison to the lowest, which is at 18.5%)
  • Average housing values of $224,000, second lowest in comparison.
  • The second highest vacant housing units for seasonal and recreational use, suggesting the presence of vacationers.

Frederic Church, along with his mentor Thomas Cole, helped to define the Hudson River School of painting, a group of artists known for their romantic depictions of the area’s stunning landscape. To this end, Church founded Olana specifically for aesthetic activity purposes. By creating an estate designed solely for leisurely retreats, Church is said to be one of the instigators of Hudson Valley tourism. Today, Olana is a major tourist attraction.

Leaving Olana and driving just a few miles further, we arrived in the City of Hudson. Starting with a cluster of antique stores that appeared about 25 years ago, the city has expanded into a trendy arts district, becoming a destination spot in the Valley area while still managing to maintain a small town feel. The buildings are old, unique, and colorful. Greenery is prevalent in Hudson, with ivy growing on buildings, trees lining the streets, and scenic woods and hills only a quick walk away from downtown. Just off the Hudson River, this city is accessible by Metro North and Amtrak.


Faith Gilbert at Letterbox Farm

Based on a brief afternoon stay in Hudson, we observed many artsy-looking youth as well as older, more affluent vacationers or residents. We hypothesize that the younger demographic was drawn by the low housing values, the up-and-coming old town feel, and employment opportunities in the arts and farming. Hudson’s proximity to Bard also means there are creative, mobile college graduates in the area. In talking with Faith Gilbert of Letterbox Farm, she echoed some of these sentiments, saying that what drew her to the area was Hudson’s proximity to urban markets and culture (a draw for many young college grads such as herself), which works to the benefit of the farm, allowing them to sell to both restaurants in Hudson and New York City. Further, she explained, Hudson is one of the few areas left in the Northeast that has a “small, un-urbanized town center,” meaning that she and the rest of the Letterbox crew can live in the city and work on a farm–the perfect balance of urban and rural.

poor loner

Poor Darcy (on the right) never quite fit in with the other girls.

The older and more affluent population, we speculate, comes largely from New York City. When walking around we ran into older couples and friend groups, as demonstrated by Ariel’s and my selfie with a group of five gal pals looking at an expensive shop. For this demographic, Hudson is accessible and affordable, and feels like an escape from a more bustling urban area–the city cultivates a rustic feel, and has a sense of community that comes with the local shops and bars. There are also interesting tourist attractions nearby, like Olana.

To give downtown Hudson’s aesthetic a name, “rustic bougie” would fit the bill. Striking a fine balance of historic charm and trendy offerings (in terms of furniture, food, and fashion), it is easy to see why affluent vacationers as well as a trendy, younger population would both be attracted to Hudson. The city provides the amenities and cultural attractions of a larger urban area, while maintaining an aesthetic very much tied to the rural Hudson Valley setting. Nature-inspired imagery abounds–from the plant display in the plumber’s shop to fur throws and decorative leaves, Hudson’s story is built on the natural offerings of the Valley.


Rustic bougie at its finest.

plant bath

Plumbing and plants.


ENST 291Goes To Woodstock

We met Lori Majewski at Bearsville Theatre. Lori is a freelance writer and has co-written a book with Jonathan Bernstein titled Mad World: An Oral History of New Wave Artists and Songs That Defined the 1980s.

Lori is one of the many people who have spent their lives in the New York metropolitan area but have decided to purchase a getaway home in the Hudson Valley. While she loves the hustle and bustle of New York City and all it has to offer for her career and social life, she savors her peaceful weekends in Woodstock, New York. The tranquility, she says, is something that still surprises her. To wake up and not hear police sirens or people shouting is a luxury for city dwellers like Lori who are accustomed to a more hectic lifestyle. “They say your most creative moments are when you first wake up,” Lori tells us. Her ideal morning consists of waking up, enjoying the scenery, and writing. She warned us, “Don’t use your cell phone!” when we first get out of bed.

For Lori, Woodstock has truly become her home. After a few years of living here, she says that she feels like a local. She participates in community events, meets new people, and keeps a finger on the pulse of Woodstock’s art and music scene. One of her favorite aspects of Woodstock is the affordable concerts. At Woodstock, she says, one can expect to hear quality music without breaking the bank. That allows for her to explore more, and find new artists. During our conversation, Lori reflects on her adolescent music taste and admits that she was once quite snooty about different genres. But now she is at a different stage in her life – one in which she can enjoy the folksiness of Woodstock and get away from New York City and its distractions.


Lori Majewski speaking to our class outside the historic Bearsville Theater

Our class began to stumble along to a grassy lawn boarded by stream. The water was clear and cool and immediately diverted all attention away from the theatre. There we began to climb about and wander what we would later learn was a small priced of the Sawkill. Our next insight into Woodstock, Joshua Colow found us there, climbing and fiddling it the stream bed. He grew up by the Sawkill and the town of Woodstock during its beginnings as a haven for music and creativity. Colow went to a local cooperative school in the area after living on a small farm his parents had renovated into an art studio. The home was by the Sawkill and after his introductions, he lead us on a hike up the road to an old mill who used to function under the pressure of the stream. His home and the mill have turned into second homes and airbnb destinations in support of the growing tourist industry of Woodstock. But back to the creative aspect of Woodstock…

A portion of the Sawkill that runs by Colow’s childhood home


The old Sawkill mill

The old Sawkill mill

“Yeah the migration of artists to Woodstock has been going on since the early 20th century,” Colow told us (remarking on the general cultural atmosphere of the area), “it grew up as an art community before any industry came to town.” The influence of artistic and creative minds is hard to miss in this town. Whether it’s the numerous not-so-subtle allusions to the Woodstock Music Festival on the flyers stapled to every lamppost and corkboard or the multitude of galleries lining the streets, the influence of Woodstock’s artistic heritage is hard to miss. Maybe it’s the rolling hills, verdant open fields, and crystalline streams that attract artists like a magnet, it certainly couldn’t be prettier around here. Colow mentioned the Byrdcliffe Art Colony while conversing with our class, and although we never visited there on our field trip, I just had to look it up. The first sentence of its mission statement pretty much fit perfectly with what I expected: “The Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild provides a vibrant center for excellence in the arts and crafts in the beautiful and unique rural community of Woodstock, New York, while preserving the historic and natural environment of one of the earliest utopian art colonies in America”( So, to all you artists of the world, if you’re looking for a new muse, I highly suggest Woodstock, New York.

A collection of Woodstock characters

A collection of Woodstock characters


ENST 291: Trip to Phillies Bridge Farm Project


Last Friday afternoon, we embarked on our second field trip exploring the scenic Hudson Valley to the Phillies Bridge Farm Project. Located just south of New Paltz, Phillies Bridge Farm is a nonprofit working farm located on 65 acres of land. It focuses primarily on producing vegetables, herbs, and flowers for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) shareholders as well as continuing education programs that engage the community in hands-on learning about food and farming.


Anna Elbon, Farm Manager

Our visit was guided by Anna Elbon, the current manager at Phillies Bridge Farm. A Tennessee native, Anna was a environmental-studies-turned-agricultural-science major at McGill University in Montréal, Quebec, Canada, where she managed the student-run farm. During her studies, she was interested in the ecological sustainability aspect of farming.  Someday, she hopes to own her own farm.  After working on other farms in Quebec and New Hampshire, Anna came to the Hudson Valley to begin work at Phillies Bridge in January 2015.  This is her first year managing the farm, and  it is hard work as she is one of just three people on the farm staff, but she is doing a stellar job.  She is the only full-time salaried employee.  Two apprentices work with her (and a third is hired over the summer).  Other than that occasionally some dedicated volunteers come to help out when need for labor is high.  One of their most dedicated volunteers is a member of the board of directors.  Phillies Bridge has an entirely volunteer run board of directors to help manage and make decisions for the farm.

Phillies Bridge was one of the first CSA share farms in the Hudson Valley, dedicated to providing fresh, affordable, locally-grown produce to the community and allowing shareholders to develop a connection to the sources of their food. Currently about one-hundred CSA shareholders pick up an estimated $25 to $30 (the shares are sold on a sliding scale in order to increase accessibility) worth of produce each week from June through October and also have access to a “u-pick” garden and unlimited pick-your-own herb garden. A full share is enough produce to feed a family of four.  Optimally, the farm’s goal is to have 120 shareholders every season.  So, things are a little tight financially this year. However, the farm has been making up for that by selling some of their produce wholesale to local stores.  They tend to grow a lot of excess, as they cultivate a full five acres and the farm is able to successfully harvest 90 to 100% of what they plant.  While wholesale provides a good additional source of income, the farm is still trying to figure out if it is something that they want to further pursue and invest in.  Since they always have so much extra production, Anna is considering cutting back on the amount of land they grow on each season in order to cut down on labor.  Scaling back like this would allow them to concentrate more on growing their CSA.  She says that what they really need to focus on is more marketing for the CSA.  Right now people mainly hear of it through word of mouth, but if it were to be more heavily marketed a lot of interest and new participation would likely be generated.  Phillies Bridge is a much smaller operation than Fishkill Farms, which we visited last week.  For this reason, it is much harder for them to spend the time telling the historic and cultural story of the farm and engaging in the agritourism sector.  They have to spend a lot of their time managing the five acres and so it is difficult to put the time into selling the story of the farm as well as the physical products of it.  However, Phillies Bridge does have a rich history that many agritourists would find very appealing.  It dates back to the 18th century and used to be a dairy farm.  Now, it is an integral part of the local community.

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While the farm is not certified organic, they do follow organic and sustainable growing methods such as the use of cover crops and crop rotation. When necessary, they try to use organic insecticides and minimize spraying whenever possible.

Another wonderful thing about Phillies Bridge Farm Project is that it provides a portion of each season’s harvest to food-insecure households in Ulster County through their Farm-to-Families program.  Their non-profit status them allows them to apply for grants which enable them to donate CSA shares.

In addition to the CSA, Phillies Bridge has started selling produce at the farmers market at SUNY New Paltz.  While we were there, the two farm apprentices returned to the farm from their first day at the farmer’s market.

_DSC0322The other big component of Phillies Bridge are its many opportunities for education. This includes a summer camp, home school program, pre-school program, adult workshops, and field trips from tourists or groups of students like us. These visits provide the opportunity to learn how to seed, transplant, weed, cook, and see where food really comes from.  Below is a picture of the special garden dedicated entirely to education.  There are six staff members in the education department, outnumbering the staff that works on the farm.  The education program, in addition to the CSA, is another major way in which Phillies Bridge engages with the local community in a meaningful way.

Anna led us around the Harvest Room, barns, greenhouse, and some of the fields used for vegetable production. Along the way we also got to meet some chicken and goat friends.  Some of the chickens were visiting from a micro-dairy down the road.  Phillies Bridge had kindly offered to host them for a while as the dairy had an owl problem.  Unfortunately some hawks had discovered the presence of the chickens at Phillies Bridge and so they were all taking shelter under their coop.  The goats at the farm are kept in a movable pen.  They are rotated around and act essentially as natural lawn mowers.  Additionally, they are pretty adorable, friendly, and surprisingly vocal.
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Whether you are an Ulster County local looking to learn more about and eat quality, sustainably-grown food or a native New Yorker searching for that nostalgia factor of the Hudson Valley, you will find what you are looking for at Phillies Bridge Farm Project.

By Natalie & Elise


Daniel’s First Post – Fishkill Farms – #ES291

My name is Daniel Gutowski. I am a senior at Vassar College with a major in economics and a minor in philosophy. This semester I am taking a course titled Field Experiences in the Hudson Valley with legendary professor Leonard Nevarez. Each week we will be visiting various locations throughout the Hudson Valley and learning more about the region’s amenity economy. Despite growing up in the Hudson Valley, I am already learning so much that I did not know. Keep your eyes peeled for more photos of my adventures on my Instagram @danielgutowski .

This past Friday I had the pleasure of meeting Josh Morgenthau, co-owner of Fishkill Farms. He discussed sustainability as well as his company’s direct-to-consumer approach. This year, Fishkill Farms marked its 102nd anniversary. When asked to reflect on his farm’s success, Josh cited two factors: the farm’s proximity to New York City, and finding the perfect medium between quality and affordability.

Fishkill Farms Peaches

Fishkill Farms Peaches

Josh Morgenthau

Josh Morgenthau

Apple Tree at Fishkill Farms

Apple Tree at Fishkill Farms


Frank’s First Post!


My Name is Frank Najarro and I’m an Anthropology major with an interest in Environmental Studies, particularly food and people relations. I am a sophomore here at Vassar College in beautiful Poughkeepsie, NY, and look forward to the many adventures sure to come in the ever gorgeous Hudson Valley! Please follow me on Instagram and Twitter at frank_najarro


Me coming back from Fishkill Farms with a loot of a dozen warm apple cider doughnuts!



Ariel’s first post

Hey everyone!

I’m Ariel, a senior environmental studies major from New York City, concentrating in geography. I’m super excited to be in this class, especially after Friday’s trip to Fishkill Farms which was a lot of fun and a great chance to talk to a local grower. Here’s a pic of me, in the black shirt. (I seem to be scowling in most of the photos, but I promise I’m not that mean).




Elise’s first post

IMG_1666Hi I’m Elise, look i’m sitting in such a tiny little chair! I’m a junior environmental studies major with sequences in sociology and earth science, and I’m super pumped for many more awesome field trips!  Also I’m sideways here…not sure how to fix it.