MIMI & RICHARD
MADE IN GHENT
New York City to Ghent, New York
It was early fall when Urban Exodus visited Mimi and Richard Beaven's Made in Ghent farm, farm store, bakery and gathering place. The apples were ripe for the picking and the fall harvest had commenced. The farm store was bustling with people coming to buy produce, meat and bread for their evening meals. Mimi was busy at work in the kitchen, whipping up fresh scones, while Richard was working on various projects that needed attention on the farm. Upon first entering Made in Ghent, it is difficult to believe that only four years ago this 75-acre farm was overgrown fields and a few derelict buildings. Mimi and Richard started as weekenders in Columbia County, they bought a little farmhouse on a small plot of land and would come up to escape the madness of New York City on the weekends with their two daughters. Each visit, they found it harder and harder to return to New York. They started a vegetable garden, began raising animals and realized they were both ready for a major life change. Richard had worked in the advertising world for many years and the constant travel and stress had left him ready for the next adventure. With their two daughters entering high school they thought long and hard about what truly held meaning in their life. They were ready to take a leap of faith and start a new venture together. They sold their home in the suburbs outside of New York and moved into their little farmhouse. Richard commuted back and forth until they found their current farm, just a mile from their previous place in Ghent, New York. They invested their life savings to build Made in Ghent, knowing full well that it meant their business had to become sustainable in order to not have to return to their previous city lives. They also knew that they would be in it for the long haul, this would be their forever farm, something they would continue to run when their city friends had long since retired. Made in Ghent is constantly evolving and adding new offerings for their local and seasonal community. In addition to running an Animal Welfare Approved meat and egg business, Mimi makes bread, baked goods and preserves for the store, they host farm dinners and run creative and business development workshops. Richard has channeled his former agency skills into his photography and has established himself as a respected photojournalist in the Hudson Valley, working for the Wall Street Journal and other major media outlets on regional stories. Mimi has channeled the success of her kitchen pursuits into her first book Do Preserve: Make Your Own Jams, Chutneys, Pickles and Cordials that she co-authored with a friend. Although they both feel like they work even harder now than they did in their previous lives, the work feels meaningful and they get to do it side-by-side. Their daughters are flourishing, loving being surrounded by the natural world and the family has solidly rooted themselves in their local community. The support, mentorship and friendships they have made in such a short amount of time has solidified their resolve that they made the right move. Although it certainly hasn’t been easy and the learning curve steep, walking up into the high fields above their farm at sunset and gazing out on the Catskill Mountains, they feel incredibly lucky they took a risk and created Made in Ghent. (Click here to jump to their interview)
What inspired you to move to the country?
We both grew up in and around the country and we both worked on farms in our teenage years. The pull of the community around us here was far greater than that of the New York suburbs. The more weekends and vacations we spent in Columbia County the more our passion for this lifestyle was reawakened. NYC is only two hours away so we can enjoy the best of both worlds but we don’t miss the suburbs in between.
Initially what was the hardest part about making the move? What challenges came later?
Mimi and our (then early teenaged) daughters moved full time first while Richard was finishing up his job which involved a fair bit of global travel and needing to be in NYC. There was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing and there’s uncertainty that comes with resettling and an entirely new infrastructure needed to be established of course. Later on, our search for farm property was a challenge but we eventually found this place on our own doorstep practically. Building Little Ghent Farm, essentially from scratch, has been a massive undertaking. This winter will be the first one in four years that we haven’t been ‘knee-deep’ in building plans.
What surprised you most about country living? Did it meet your expectations?
In the end not that much since we had experienced the area beforehand. Perhaps most significantly it has been the support we have received and the helping hands to get everything up and running. We have some great mentors. There’s a sense here that everyone’s in it together (the vibrant food scene and exciting growth in popularity) which fosters an amazing spirit of community. So far country living has exceeded our expectations.
What were the hardest things to get used to? What do you miss the most about the city?
Well, for a start the school bus didn’t stop outside our front door any more! There’s a commitment to living in the country which results in feeling tied to it and abandoning many of the conveniences of city or suburban life. Sometimes we miss the possibility and variety of good takeaway meals but then we remind ourselves of the deliciousness of all the food produced around us. For our daughters there became a greater need to plan for social events as distance didn’t make for walking over to a friend’s house and hanging out.
Would you ever go back to an urban existence?
It’s unlikely but you can never say “never”. Circumstances change and we’ve always figured out a plan according to that. It’s pretty certain we wouldn’t return to a suburban existence.
What do you appreciate the most about life in the country?
A real sense of the changing seasons, fresh air, and space. Each day there is always something different and the beauty of our surroundings, in any season, makes us feel lucky. There’s much less of a sense of being ground down by routine and homogeneity. In many ways, as far as we are concerned, this life tends to emphasize the important rather than the urgent things.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of moving out of the city?
Do your homework. The country is not one thing, it is many and various. The pace is very different so expectations need to be reset. Don’t simply try to do the same things in a different place, adapt to the environment. It will take longer to acclimate than one might anticipate, depending on how long and how engrained city life has been previously. Visit in late January as well as Memorial Day weekend. Oh, and there’s typically a lot more driving involved.
Where do you draw your inspiration and passion from for your work?
Mimi: From my earlier times working on farms and as a lambing shepherd. From what I see around me, the produce available and conversations with our customers. There’s a lot of people here who want to cook and learn… as I do. One of my favorite inspirations, after a long day in the kitchen, is when I get to walk the fields with Bumble, our dog. I then have time to think and reflect.
Richard: The light here, day and night, is amazing and always inspiring. We have created a life where we can (and need to) mix being practical around the farm with other creative endeavors. This keeps us on our toes and inspired. We are all products of our experiences and being here has widened our perspectives and been a catalyst to trying many new things.
Have you noticed a change in yourself or your work since moving away from the city?
Mimi: The cadence is different. This ranks as some of the hardest work I have ever done in terms of hours and stamina required. This is to be expected of course and we are putting in the time as we feel passionate and care deeply about what we are doing. We didn’t relocate to simply do the same thing somewhere else. It is also seasonal to some degree so we hope to have a little more down time once winter sets in and things quieten down a little. As you can imagine neither of us have any trouble falling asleep.
Richard: I have always considered myself a resourceful person but living in the country has definitely enhanced the need to be better at this. We didn’t retire to the country, we made a decision to move here for the growth opportunities and we’ve been ramping up ever since. The wider perspective and freedom is a catalyst for more ideas and more resolve to make them happen. I feel energized by that.
Walk us through a typical day in your country existence? How does it compare to the day to day in the city?
There isn’t one. School runs happen, chores get done and farm projects have a continuous list of their own. Perhaps the only typical thing that happens every day is that something spontaneously pops up that needs attending to. Life before was the schedule running the day. Now the day runs the schedule.
Are there things that you are able to do here that you wouldn’t have dared to try before moving from the city?
Well…raising pigs and chickens for sure! We wouldn’t have owned a dog. Now, seeing Bumble running free, it’s hard for us to understand how people have dogs in a city like New York. It’s unlikely we would have set up our own business together had we not moved here.
What are some common misperceptions about life in the country? What do you want people to know/understand about life in small communities?
It’s a different life of course. Winters can not only be hard but arduous. Too often the world of social media promotes a sense that it’s all idyllic (think ice skating, hot chocolate, mittens and roaring fires in winter) when in actual fact there’s a struggle going on a good amount of the time. A common misconception is a lack of available culture or stimulation and that somehow the country is second division in that respect. The reality is that there are many inspiring experiences to be had. People here are dreaming up and making great ideas happen. These sometimes exist in more isolated conditions so you have to go on a search for them but they are there. The brand workshops we hosted at the farm recently made us realize how many great people and ideas there are around here and we were thrilled to bring them together around one table.
What are your future plans/goals for Made in Ghent in the coming year?
We plan to continue with our mission of making the farm productive again in different ways. We will steadily add more facets provided that we know we can do them really well and that they are consistent with our brand. We have so far been able to integrate our work and lives in ways we could only dream about when we lived in the suburbs yet there is no ‘line’ between the two. Our future plans include looking to ensure the right balance within that. All in all that is not a problem - more of an opportunity and one made possible by this country life.