It all started with “farm to table,” not just a desire to serve it, but to do it.
By Caitlin Brown
It all started with “farm to table,” not just a desire to serve it, but to do it. Stepping onto the Red Maple Vineyard farm in West Park, New York, you’d never believe that just three years ago, this former working winery was pretty much gone. Gary and Liz Stone, who met as chefs just down the hill at the Culinary Institute of America, purchased the 83-acre property with big dreams, and loads of entrepreneurial spirit.
“When we started, we didn’t think we had a chance in hell to do it ourselves,” said Gary, “but we did.”
Much of this, like most things in life, was learned through trial and error. Issues came up that had to be worked through: soil, compost, and irrigation. There was a learning curve, but the Stones were determined to try and test until they found a solution. This has been their approach since day one and it is why they have found early success. They are out there 12 hours a day in the dirt watching, tending, planning.
With only three years under their belt this Rye couple, along with their daughter, Shayleen (Shay), a farm enthusiast and entrepreneur-in-the- making, and their team/extended family — some of whom have been with them for over 20 years. A big part of the team is Cornerstone Catering head chef Norman Trueb, also a CIA grad, who is a true green thumb and a compost wiz. (A bumper sticker on his car reads: “I love compost.”)
It is beyond remarkable to see how far the team has come, especially as none of them had ever done anything like this before. You’d never believe that stepping onto their farm. Just days ago, 700 asparagus plants were put in the ground, along with hundreds of fruit trees (apples, pears, peaches, figs) at the bottom of the hill. A hundred raised beds are starting to sprout with a delicious variety of vegetables; some highly unique, like wasabi arugula.
The property boasts a beautiful hill overlooking the Hudson Valley, from which you can see the Vanderbilt mansion, a pond stocked with wide mouth bass, wonderful rock foundations, and pavilions, fields, and structures from the previous winery. There was much work to do upon acquiring the property, especially repairing and reimagining the structures. Gary hoped to get the grape vines going again and make his own wine. “The veggie garden just made so much sense for our business. We had a strict deadline, so we just dove in, did a lot of research, and rolled up our sleeves. The previous owner was nice enough to allow the couple to begin the veggie garden a month before moving in. This allowed the couple to think about changes they wanted to do to the buildings and get plenty of help.
“We couldn’t have gotten as much done without the help from our staff at Corner Stone,” said Gary. “Norman was instrumental in bringing his passion, knowledge, and organization to the gardens…. what seemed daunting morphed into a full-on project. The farm-to-table concept was starting to gain momentum in Westchester, but the idea of ‘our farm-to-your-table’ seemed perfect for the future of our business. When Sandy rolled through and we had to close our business in Rye for ten days, we used the opportunity to bring our staff up to the farm to assist.”
They all love what they do and are excited to learn more.
In no time at all, Shay became expert in “companion planting” — a method of growing plants as friendly neighbors that help each other grow, keep pests away, and can even enhance flavors. She is a self-taught beekeeper (has her own suit) who grows lavender and wildflowers to enhance the honey.
Norman, once an untapped “green thumb,” has perfected the compost on the farm and has devoted a huge space at his home in Westchester (his entire garage) to the growing of tomato, eggplant, and other seedlings. Other plants on the farm — arugula, kale, herbs, Swiss chard, and asparagus — were all started as seeds.
New grape vines went in the year the Stones moved in and have two more years to go before they are ready. Grape vines take three years to bear fruit.
The garden is a true example of what can happen with passion, perseverance, TLC, and patience. This is just the beginning. All have plans for the next step.
Just last year, this pastoral place became a wedding venue, and with no marketing, they have doubled their wedding reservations in the first few months of this year.
Shay plans to begin a line of farm-made pesto and other goodies. She also plans to add new, fun salad options at the catering location she refers to as “down south.” All of the produce grown at Red Maple Vineyard goes into the ingredients at Cornerstone weddings at the farm and at Wainwright House in Rye.
Gary and Liz look forward to offering a small, high-quality selection of wines from their vineyards and are working with a well-known Chilean wine maker to make it happen.
The Stones have another dream: to bring their farm-to-table education to youngsters and people that share their interest. They have learned so much and want to spread their insight, and, most of all, their excitement.
To learn more about Red Maple Vineyard, contact Gary Stone at email@example.com or 845-384-3057.