by Kathryn Matthews
Aha moments often occur under duress. Last December Elizabeth Ryan was desperately trying to figure out how to keep her staff from Breezy Hill Orchard
intact through the winter. It had been a challenging year. In fact, for several years all Hudson Valley growers had been having a tough time, with the problems of the ongoing recession compounded by unpredictable crop yields, a consequence of volatile weather conditions.
As Ryan stepped onto East Market Street in Rhinebeck, she spotted a sign, "Room for Rent," on a former barber shop directly across from the municipal parking lot where the farmers' market is held from spring through fall. Never slow to add 2 plus 2, she suddenly also recalled something a friend had recently said: “Honey, I just want to be able to buy an orange in this town!”
It had been years since Rhinebeck Village had had a food market. Like nearly all the villages in the region, high rents and competition from the supermarkets in the strip malls outside of town had made the ma-and-pa grocery a relic. But times and priorities had recently changed. There was a new customer, bent on buying local, sustainable, and organic, and willing to pay the price. Three days after working out a favorable agreement with the landlord (who, as luck would have it, is a staunch Breezy Hill Orchard customer), Ryan opened the Breezy Hill Market.
Today, Ryan and her passionate and knowledgeable staff sell local broccoli, Swiss chard, just-picked purple asparagus, and not-local Valencia oranges seven days a week to what she describes as "a core group of wildly supportive customers,” who have also come to rely on Breezy Hill for their grass-fed organic meats (frozen), local milk, cream, and eggs, cheeses, prepared foods, such as pasta and potato salads, as well as pies and pastries. In Ryan's view, the farmers who help keep the bins and refrigerated cases filled are joined by these loyal customers as partners in the business: “It’s one of the best ways that people can invest—for very little money—in a green, local and sustainable economy.”
Ryan comes from a long line of farmers, and the bug bit her early—and hard. In 1984, as a 24-year-old fresh out of Cornell, she single-handedly bought Breezy Hill in Staatsburg, a 35-acre dairy farm that she has since transformed into a diversified orchard. Then—as now—she was a passionate advocate for local and sustainable agriculture. Breezy Hill is now in its second year of transitioning to certified organic—one of the few orchards in the Hudson Valley doing so. (Under the Breezy Hill imprimatur, Ryan also operates Knoll Krest Farm, best known for its eggs, and Stone Ridge Orchard in Ulster County.)
A founding member of the New York City Greenmarket farmers’ markets, Ryan also helped found the Rhinebeck Farmers Market, where, in season, Breezy Hill’s stand is a mainstay, selling apples, pears, peaches, plums and raspberries, as well as apple cider, donuts and fruit pies.
Though Ryan isn't making any rash promises, her customers naturally hope that Breezy Hill Market is here to stay. “It’s a challenge to be open seven days a week,” she hedges. Nonetheless, she appears to have settled in, fitting the cozy, light-filled space with a 19th-century countertop she salvaged from an old store in Newburgh. The place exudes a quaint, old-timey charm that suggests it has always has been—and always should be—part of the Rhinebeck village scene.
Breezy Hill Orchard Farm Market
54 E. Market Street, Rhinebeck
Open daily, Saturday - Thursday 9 a.m. - 6 p.m.; Friday 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.