If you’ve recently dined at any of the top farm-to-table restaurants in Manhattan and Brooklyn, chances are you’ve tasted the seasonal, fresh produce from Lucky Dog Farms, a 45-acre organic vegetable farm in Hamden, NY, a tiny hamlet in the Western Catskills sandwiched between Delhi and Walton. In 2001, Holley and Richard Giles had the “crazy idea for an organic farm,” purchasing land from a local dairy farmer after the couple relocated from Brooklyn. “People up here know us as people from New York City, but neither of us were. We were just in New York by accident,” recalls Richard of the brief time they spent downstate.
Today, Lucky Dog Farms is a Greenmarket staple at two of the city’s most heavily trafficked farmer’s markets: Union Square on Saturdays and Fort Greene on Sundays. As far as restaurants go, you can taste their greens at Marlow and Sons, Diner, and Allswell in Williamsburg, Romans in Fort Greene, Gramercy Tavern in Manhattan, and even at Untitled – Michael Anthony’s culinary gem at the new Whitney.
Richard, who has over fifteen years experience farming in East Mississippi and West Alabama, spearheads the produce operations, while Holley has her hands full overseeing the farm store, the cafe, and the adjacent Hamden Inn. The couple welcomes visitors for weekend stays in one of the Inn’s five rooms where guests can stock up on produce and foodstuffs from regional producers at the farm store before retiring to the front porch for a quiet dinner on cool summer evenings.
“We were both really attracted to the landscape. The farm we bought has beautiful farmland in the valley and in the mountains,” says Richard. “And, in the summer, the weather is a lot better than in the city,” Holley adds.
“There is a whole lot more awareness of local food,” says Richard who’s seen a trend of younger people moving upstate to cultivate the land. “In the last 3 or 4 years, I’ve noticed quite a nice bunch of newer younger farmers in the community.”
As Richard found himself traveling more frequently to the city, he started reaching out to other upstate suppliers like Dirty Girl Farm in Andes, Kountry Kubby Farm in Margarettsville, and L and N Dragonfly Pond Farms in Walton, offering to expand their reach. The Lucky Dog Food Hub now transports goods from dozens of upstate farms to New York based restaurants. “I feel good about the community that we have with other farms. The farms I listed are only a small number of the farms that either sell stuff through our store or ship stuff on our trucks, so that’s pretty gratifying.”
This year, four pigs: “porkchop,” “ham,” “bacon” and “sausage,” called the farm home. “I like pigs and they fit well into our system,” says Holley, who feeds them food scraps from the Hamden Inn’s restaurant or from the Lucky Dog Cafe.
The interiors, a collection of vintage items and brick-a-brack – many of which are for sale in the store – showcase a variety of items that Holley has amassed over the past fifteen years of upstate antiquing.
The Cafe menu is a medley of salads, soups and sandwiches, drawing from what’s seasonally available. The ever-popular Cuban pulled pork sandwich is spiced with coffee, raisins, chili pepper and orange juice, and comes with a side salad of fresh vegetables from the farm.
Holley bakes fresh bread for the panini sandwiches, which she refers to as “crocodile bread” for its crisp hard crust.
Amber Gray, who briefly worked on the farm in 2013, now manages the store and cafe. “We liked her so much, we recruited her,” says Richard. The extra free time has allowed Holley to pursue “something different,” namely learning how to make cheese with Dutch cheesemaker Jos Vulto at his Walton-based creamery.
“What I love most here is the community that has developed around the farm, the store, and now the food hub,” says Richard. “The farmers with whom we share transportation show up here every week with their farm produce to go on our trucks. We visit a few minutes, and when they leave, my world is a little bit bigger.”