When cookbook author Mark Bittman came to the Field Library to speak in November, 120 people bought a ticket to hear the former food columnist for the New York Times talk about the history of food, along with the current state of affairs regarding food and its production. He said local was more important than organic.
Peekskill and Cortlandt residents are fortunate to have a 120 acre farm situated at the end of Maple Avenue, just beyond the Croton reservoir. The third generation of the DeMaria family is running Hemlock Hill Farm today and boasts an 18-month old USDA meat processing plant that allows them to slaughter and sell the animals that are raised on the farm. There is a newly renovated market in a 200 year old building that is open 7 days a week, selling meats, eggs, produce along with ready made food. The farm employs 8 to 15 people depending on the season.
When Nick and Katherine DeMaria moved from Peekskill and bought the property in 1939 it was a dairy farm with apple orchards. Nick died in 1957 and their son John was honorably discharged from the US Army to return home to run the farm. Possessing a degree in animal husbandry from Cornell, he began raising hogs and selling them at auctions in Pennsylvania. In the 1970’s, he built a small butcher shop on the farm and started selling hogs directly.
In 2004, one of his four daughters, Laura, decided she wanted to work on the farm full-time. As her father transitioned the farm from a dairy and orchard into raising hogs, she saw a need to raise more than hogs. It was under her direction that the farm added cattle, chickens, lambs, turkey and geese in addition to hogs. About ten years ago she started seeing the demand for locally raised meat.
In 2011, after five years of negotiations, Westchester County officials signed an agreement with John DeMaria to purchase the conservation easement for the land, which is within the Croton Reservoir watershed. The contract prevents development on the land – allowing operation of the farm and protection of the watershed into the future.
In 2016, with the help of a New York State Business Development loan, they built the processing plant that employs about 3 to 5 people depending on the season. They formed a separate business for the butcher operation aptly named Macelleria (Italian for butcher) DeMaria, and the number of employees will increase as they become busier. They are advertising now to other local farms to bring their small livestock, (mainly lambs and hogs) for their processing needs since the next processing plant is at least 3 hours drive away.
The farm consists of woods to the south which used to be filled with hemlock trees, hence the name. Hunterbrook is to the east and just over the hill is the Croton reservoir. The fields are used to grow hay and allow the animals to graze. “Lots of people ask us why we don’t lease out the space for weddings,” said Trish Vasta, who manages the market and runs the vegetable garden in season. “If we were to have weddings in our meadow it would be in the buffet area of our livestock. The animals are antibiotic and hormone fee and are humanely raised,” said Vasta, who is a cousin to the DeMaria’s.
Another daughter, Katie, has been cooking food in a commerical kitchen on the property under the label Farmhouse Kitchen since August of last year. Katie spent a lot of time on the farm with her grandmother Katherine and learned ‘old world recipes’ such as making broth from bones. In the market display cases are a variety of selections from Chicken PotPie to Ramen Kit with fresh pork and vegetables.
The farm offers Community Supported Argiculture shares. CSA’s are a popular way to buy food directly from the farm. The farm offers a share to the public which consists of a box of vegetables, or vegetables and eggs, or vegetables, eggs and meat. Shares are offered from June 6 to October 3 (18 weeks). Members pay for their shares in full by March 15.
A Healthy Harvest Share (includes fresh picked, organic vegetables) is $595 for 18 weeks. $680 for Full Vegetable with eggs for 18 weeks, $280 Half Vegetable for 9 weeks.
A Whole Farm Share includes organic vegetables, eggs, pasture raised Barred Rock Chicken and a selection of cuts from barn raised Yorkshire Pork and pasture raised Black Angus Beef. For 18 weeks, the full meat, vegetables with eggs is $1870. For 9 weeks, the half meat, vegetable with eggs is $880.
Pick up is at the farm on Thursdays from 2-6 pm and Saturdays between 9 and 1. All members are required to volunteer 2 hours per month.