Tag Archives: Steven Googin

Home on the Farm Cafe


By Ed Staskus

“It starts with the cows,” said Marla Gilman, her hand tracing an arc across shelves of cheese. “They make good, good milk.”

At the top of a big slate board behind her was written in chalk: “All dairy comes from our farm and creamery.” The creamery is North Country and the farm is Clover Mead. The counter where Marla was standing was the Clover Mead Café and Farm Store.

When asked where the cows were she pointed to a dirt path across the street.

“Just up there” she said, “where there’s a bunch of poop and some electric fences.”

The farm-to-table eatery in Keeseville, NY, which had been shuttered after its owners retired, re-opened in May 2014. Ashlee Kleinhammer and Steven Googin, co-owners of the farm and creamery since 2013, worked with Ms. Gilman to bring the café back to life, expanding and refreshing it.

“They decided to amp it up,” Marla said. “We busted our butts to get this place in shape.” She became the cook and manager.

“Great flavors,” said Jean-Audouin Duval of Keeseville, by way of 40 years living in New York City. “After eating there I take home some insane cheeses and yogurt to die for. I’m in heaven!”

The 25-year-old Marla Gilman, a New Jersey native and University of Vermont graduate of the Department of Agriculture, whose kitchen work includes NYC’s Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Lake Placid’s Liquids and Solids, moved to Keeseville in the spring.

“All my friends and boyfriend were here,” she said. “I wanted to live here.”

Her boyfriend, Dylan Badger, who opened the Ausable Brewing Company with his brother Dan in September, described their malted grain wares as “unfiltered beers from unfiltered brewers.”

“They re-built a barn that was falling to the ground and turned it into their brew space and tasting room,” said Marla.

The café, farm, creamery, and brewery are all on Mace Chasm Road, as is Mace Chasm Farm, whose chickens, pigs, and cows are rotationally grazed on 60 acres of pasture. Just down the street is Fledging Crow Vegetables, a Certified Naturally Grown farm.

The nascent resurgence of farming up and down Mace Chasm Road is reminiscent of Vermont’s ecologically minded “Back to the Land” movement of the 1970s. Just across Lake Champlain from Keeseville, Vermont today ranks first on the Locavore Index for its commitment to local food, which is part of the state’s economic growth strategy.

“There’s a food scene happening here,” Marla said. “It’s not big, but it’s definitely starting. I don’t think Mace Chasm Farm has ever seen as much action before. They even did a taco night this summer.”

Dylan Badger of Ausable Brewing agreed. “On this road alone there are four farms. We want people to enjoy what we have to offer, just this whole incredible scene here.”

Ms. Gilman is emblematic of Millennials taking up farm work. “I felt this thing going on here, super cool young farmers and motivated entrepreneurs starting something, and I totally wanted to be a part of it.”

Farm internships have skyrocketed in the last five years, according to the National Agriculture Information Service.

“If you talk to any really good farmer they’ll tell you that they’ve had a doubling and tripling of the applicant pool over the last few years,” said Severine von Tscharner Fleming, an upstate New York farmer activist who founded the National Young Farmers Coalition.

Even though farming can be notoriously dogged work, working one to the bone, and midsized farms, which account for most people who try to make a living off the land, have been increasingly marginalized by agribusinesses, many young people are taking up the mantle of farming, often specializing in the local, organic market.

“New England is now home to young kids becoming farmers – not the old back-to-the-landers type with political or religious missions, but focusing entirely on food,” said Helena Worthen, a retired professor from Berkeley, California.

After eating at the Clover Mead Cafe she praised the food, especially the “Cheeseville” cheese, but explained that outdoor seating meant the picnic table. “If there’s room,” she added.

Clover Mead features all things locally grown on the area’s farmlands. “It’s elevated comfort food,” said Stephanie Fishes of nearby Au Sable Forks. “It’s totally worth a menu detour.”

The café’s coolers brim with cheeses, yogurts, and milk, and the menu features Marla’s homemade breads, breakfast, and lunch foods. The egg sandwiches are a favorite, as are the Camembert Panini’s. The Camembert is theirs and the apples come from a neighboring orchard.

“Our chicken salad sandwich is definitely number one for lunch,” she said. “I roast whole, organic chickens, pick all the meat off, chop it up, and all the goodness in the pan goes back in. The moisture comes from that and then I add a bunch of spices.”

It isn’t plain Jane chicken mixed with mayonnaise. It’s chicken salad spreading its wings.

“I’m surrounded by really awesome farms, so the point is to create really good food,” Marla explained.

Off the beaten path, even in the off the beaten path town of Keeseville, re-opening the café was a risk. “It was scary at first,” said Marla. “It’s so unassuming here. But, this is a really cool place.”

People will go far and wide for good food. “We haven’t met our goal business-wise just yet,” said Ashlee Kleinhammer. “But, we’re close.”

Ms. Gilman has been buoyed by the community’s support.

“Keeseville has been great,” she said.

“They could have been, what are those young idiots doing? But, I think they’re happy to see it coming back. It used to be a booming, fun town back in the day. And then it plummeted. I think they’re happy to see something happening again with the town they grew up in.”

When asked what her plans were for the North Country winter she explained the café would be closed for a month in January.

“I’m going to San Francisco and eat a bunch of food. That’s what I like to do when I’m not working, try new things, and develop my palette.”

She pointed to the bottom of the slate board, which said: “We proudly source organically, locally, from scratch, and always with love.”

“We’ll figure out our plan from there,” she said. “Five years from now this is going to be a totally happening place.”

Photograph by Vanessa Staskus.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”

From Yogaville to Cheeseville

Hannah Inglish

By Ed Staskus

When Hannah Inglish interned at the North Country Creamery in Keeseville in far northern New York near the Canadian border for six months she didn’t know it was the penultimate step in her transition from Cleveland, Ohio, yoga girl to cow herder maven and cheesemaker.

She also didn’t know that a year later, eight years after she began studying pre-Christian non-theism, rolling out a yoga mat, and changing her eating habits, she would be making arrangements to move away from where there were 5000 people per square city mile to 15 people per square country mile, with only her boyfriend in tow, and take up farming.

“I didn’t know it was going to happen so quickly,” she said.

“But when I was at Yogaville” – a teacher training facility and retreat center in Buckingham, Virginia, at the base of the Blue Ridge Mountains – “I read Shivananda’s writings, especially the parts about adapting, adjusting, and accommodating, so the change has been kind of easy.”

Born in Oklahoma, she and her sister grew up in Lakewood, an inner-ring old school suburb of Cleveland, and graduated from Lakewood High School. In her senior year she started reading Alan Watts, the British-born philosopher and populariser of Zen Buddhism in the 1960s and 1970s.

“He was an awesome philosopher, trying to explain the deeper meaning of things, the underlying energy you always feel,” she said. “It makes the unexplainable easier to explain.”

After high school she experimented with raw foods and vegetarianism and began commuting across town to Cleveland Heights to the Atma Center, a holistic studio dedicated to Satyananda Yoga. “They taught traditional yoga, with pranayama and chanting, not your typical soccer mom hot yoga. I wanted that.”

Satyananda Yoga professes an integrated approach to the practice and is known as the yoga of the head, heart, and hands.

The next year she signed on and went to Yogaville for three months to train as a yoga teacher.

“It was a great experience. I cut my long dreads and went by myself. All of a sudden I looked and felt different and I was around completely different people, waking up at 6 AM and meditating.”

Once back home in Lakewood, certified to teach the hatha style of Integral Yoga, she freelanced, teaching around town, but was disillusioned by the high cost of classes at studios and the prevailing focus on yoga as a workout.

“For me it’s more of a lifestyle, and the benefit of yoga is being present in the body and learning to relax. That isn’t really taught in a lot of classes.”

The next summer, with her boyfriend Max, she returned to Yogaville for another three months, but this time as an intern cooking for the ashram’s community.

“We worked in their big kitchen, cooking for hundreds of people, buffet-style, vegetarian and organic. It was another great experience.”

Returning home that fall, inspired by her kitchen work at Yogaville, she found employment at the Root Cafe, a local vegetarian restaurant, organic bakery, and espresso bar doubling as a community clubhouse featuring local music and art.

“It was my first serious cooking job,” she said. “I was the youngest person there. It was tough, although I got the hang of it. It was a lot of fun.”

But, the next summer she broke her wrist while crowd surfing in the mosh pit at a heavy metal concert and was unable to do kitchen work for several months.

“It was bad, really dumb, but I feel like it was almost like life telling me to slow down.”

After her slam danced wrist got better she returned to work, but her job at the Root Café having been filled, she instead found a new job at Earth Fare, an organic and natural food market in neighboring Fairview Park.

“I was doing my own thing at first, with the fruits and vegetables, but I kept getting transferred all over the store, and the managers were really rude, and it was just unfulfilling.”

Destiny has been described as the opportunities that arise to turn left or right when coming to a crossroad. Sometimes it takes karma to work out the windings on the road from Yogaville to Cheeseville.

“I was looking for another job, and not having any luck, but I had been thinking and looking at farm internships when I found an organic farm website I liked.”

It was the website of the National Young Farmer’s Coalition. Hannah Inglish filled out an application for an internship, posted her resume, and sat back to wait. She didn’t wait long.

“Steve Googin from the North Country Creamery in Keeseville called me the next day, even though I hadn’t applied there. There are only a few little organic farms in Ohio, but when you look at New York state it blows up.”

According to the National Young Farmer’s Coalition, most of today’s young American farmers are first generation farmers, primarily interested in growing organic foodstuffs and grass-fed dairy and beef.

“He told me I was accepted. I made plans right away. My mom drove me up there, and it was so much more than I expected, all the young farmers and the movement that is going on there.”

Steve Googin and his partner Ashlee Kleinhammer, co-owners of Clover Mead Farm and the creamery, bought and rehabbed a small trailer for Hannah to live in. They tore out its thin carpet, replaced it with hardwood flooring, and parked it under the stars. A stray cat showed up. She went to work milking the twenty cows, feeding the calves, and doing the many odd jobs that farms have an endless supply of.

“All the cows have names, like Nellie, Petunia, Trillium. Trillium was my favorite. I would pet her and she followed me around, sticking her neck out, looking to be petted. They were all such gentle giants, except for Ida, who was cranky, not so gentle. If you got too close to her she would head butt you. Once, I didn’t realize she was right behind me and she got me, which was a big pain in my butt.”

No sooner than she had gotten the hang of herding and milking the shorthorns and Jerseys in her care than the plans Mr. Googin and Ms. Kleinhammer had been making to open a farm café to sell their milk, yogurt, and cheese bore fruit. They hired a cook with experience at New York City’s Blue Hill at Stone Farms to manage the café and put Hannah in charge of the cheese.

“I think Steven really wanted to make cheese himself, and he did a few times, but they’re so busy doing everything else so they asked me to take over the cheesemaking.”

Cheese is sometimes seen as milk’s leap towards immortality, although age matters when you’re a cheese. Making cheese turned out to be the fulcrum that would take her back to Keeseville.

“Making cheese is 90% washing dishes and cleaning everything so it’s sterile, but I loved it, and besides, I really like cows. When you’re milking them they get so relaxed. I’ve seen them fall asleep right on the spot. It’s funny hearing a cow snore while you’re milking it.”

By the end of October her internship was over and she went home again to Lakewood, saying, “I was ready to come back and see my boyfriend.” No sooner was she home, though, than she started making plans again.

“I want to be a farmer,” she said. “But I can’t go out and do that anywhere. I have to go where I can learn from people, and Keeseville is where I decided to go. Even though I asked them so many questions when I was there, they weren’t saying there’s this dumb city girl, and all that. The community there is so attractive to me, the people actually doing it. Whatever it takes.”

With her mother’s help she bought a house in Keeseville and when spring comes is moving there with her boyfriend. She will go back to work at the creamery, milking cows and making cheese, and raise chickens and keep bees on the side  on her own. “There’s a beekeeper across Lake Champlain in Vermont who breeds Northern Survivor Hybrids that do really well in the north country. I’ll see what I can accomplish.”

“Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you’re a thousand miles from the corn field,” Dwight Eisenhowerwhose forebears were farmers, once said.

Farming is hard work and farmers are compelled to start over again every morning, very early in the morning, valuing their work, love of land and water, and their communities. It’s early in the sack, early to rise, no black limos for getting to work.

“The farmers around Keeseville, at Clover Mead and Mace Chasm Farms and Fledging Crow, they’re all young and it’s inspiring to see them doing that,” said Hannah.

“It’s hard, hard work, but super rewarding. Eventually I want to own land and build my own cob house. That’s the plan.”

From farm to table is the cheese way. From city girl to cheesemaker to farmer is the way Hannah Inglish has made for herself. When a cow crosses her path it means the animal is going somewhere. Here comes the cheese.

Once your plan has been signed sealed but not yet delivered what remains is bringing home the cows and getting them all on the tune of om on the milk machine so they can slumber away on their feet happily snoring.

Ed Staskus posts feature stories on Paperback Yoga http://www.paperbackyoga.com 147 Stanley Street http://www.147stanleystreet.com and Lithuanian Journal http://www.lithuanianjournal.com. To get the site’s monthly feature in your in-box click on “Follow.”