WHEN ASKED TO GIVE AN ELEVATOR pitch on what exactly the Hawthorne Valley Association is, Executive Director Martin Ping suggests you take the stairs instead. The nonprofit describes itself as a collection of “diverse initiatives committed to the renewal of soil, society, and self by integrating agriculture, education, and art.” People are encouraged to rediscover their connection to nature, food, and themselves at this diverse venue.
Located on a 900-acre Demeter-certified biodynamic farm off Route 21C in Ghent, the HVA campus is home to a Pre-K through 12 school (Waldorf), a creamery, organic bakery, a 300+ member CSA, farm store, education programs, and much more.
So, what exactly is biodynamic farming? Much like organic growing processes, the method bans the use of antibiotics, growth hormones, GMOs, and pesticides—but then takes it a step further. Demeter—named after the Greek goddess of agriculture—is the only organization that can certify biodynamic farms and products in the States, and has rigorous requirements surrounding water conservation, imported fertility, and more. According to Spencer Fenniman, HVA’s farm director, “Biodynamic farming treats the farm as an organism, and focuses on creating beneficial relationships among the animals that graze, the humans that eat the food provided by the farm, the trees that provide habitat, and the wild areas that exist on the edges.”
The arts are also essential to Hawthorne Valley, says Heather Gibbons, the director of marketing and communications. “There’s an openness here that fosters creativity—a willingness to try new ideas and support those ideas.” While this is most obvious at the Waldorf School, where arts are heavily incorporated into the curriculum, it can also be seen on the gallery page of HVA’s website, which features multimedia art crafted by staff across the association’s initiatives.
Among all these unique programs, Hawthorne Valley is still a farm, and you don’t have to take a trip to their Ghent store to sample their food. Use the store locator on their website to find out where you can buy their sauerkraut, pesto, dairy products, meat, and baked goods—their products are sold at several greenmarkets in New York City, including Union Square. Or head to the West Taghkanic Diner and taste Hawthorne Valley sauerkraut on their reubens (to learn more about the many farm-to-table diners in the Hudson Valley, see page 32).
While visitors to the campus (except for the farm store) are currently limited due to Covid precautions, HVA has a highly detailed website with info on all their initiatives. Be sure to check out their podcast “Roots to Renewal,” which was recorded in lieu of a large in-person 50th anniversary celebration, which they are hoping to schedule in summer 2022.