Tiny Arts Day in tiny West Fulton

Written by Charlene V. Martoni
Published in The Watershed Post

The town of West Fulton may be tiny, but it has a lot of heart—and art.

“West Fulton is a very interesting place, made up of extremely creative people,” said Cornelia McGiver, the artistic director of Panther Creek Arts, a new arts venue in the small Schoharie County town. “And what I find special about that place is that there is a willingness to exchange and complement ideas.”

Panther Creek Arts, which is located in a former grain and feed store from 1919, is all about inspiring this exchange through artistic, recreational and educational events. The building’s upper level, known as The Hall, includes a stage and long, natural-wood picnic tables that can seat 80 to 200 people. Meanwhile, the ground level houses BITE ME, a cafe that serves delicious foods like curried chicken salad over fresh greens, gluten-free sweets, kombucha and more.

“It’s been our mission to bring world-class music and arts to that venue,” McGiver said.

On Saturday, June 4, The Hall will turn into an art gallery for the second annual Tiny Arts Day in a Tiny Town, a mini-festival that, with the help of a community arts grant from the Greene County Council on the Arts, will showcase the work of five artists. Last year’s fest drew upwards of 150 people, and this year’s is expected to draw even more.

“You’ll have someone who is a curator of a museum in Manhattan talking to local farmers, and for me, I’m so warmed by that—so touched,” said McGiver. “There are people who would never see each other—would never meet—but here they are enjoying each other.”

If you go to Tiny Arts Day, you will have the chance to meet Elisa Jensen, an artist from Brooklyn. She is a 2015 New York Foundation for the Arts fellow and was a 2012 finalist for the foundation’s Basil Alkazzi Award for Painting. Jensen is also currently a faculty member at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture and is a visiting faculty member in the Foundation Drawing Department at Pratt Institute.

The other artist who will be featured in The Hall is Pamela Salisbury, who lives and works in Kinderhook. She completed her undergraduate studies in sculpture at Bennington College in Vermont and received her MFA in painting from the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture.

Copper and stonework by West Fulton’s own Mark Swanberry, whose designs are inspired by nature, will be shown on the ground floor, and there will also be metal sculpture by Mario Bustamante of Brooklyn on display in the park, just a stone’s throw away from the center itself.

“A very big piece of artwork by David Wilson will also be on display across from the park. It’s a surprise,” said McGiver. “And when I say big, it’s big.”

But traditional artwork won’t be the only type of art at this festival. McGiver and Panther Creek’s advisory board and volunteers have also curated a fine list of local craft brewers, distillers and food vendors, including Green Wolf Brewing Company, 1857 Spirits, Kymar Farm Distillery and Sap Bush Hollow Food and Drink. Food and drinks will be available throughout the day.

The festival will start at 3 p.m. with an enchanting origami and handcrafted mask storytelling performance by Kuniko Yamamoto, featuring myths and fables from ancient and modern Japan made fresh. Then, the art gallery will open at 4 p.m., offering guests the opportunity to purchase their favorite pieces.

“I’m very interested in artists being paid for what they do,” said McGiver, “because I think our culture could benefit from understanding and valuing artists to a greater degree.”

The day will conclude with yet more art: a musical performance starting at 8 p.m. by Brooklyn’s Musette Explosion, featuring the accordion, tuba, and guitar.

McGiver is already looking to the future, considering bumping up the musical performances to two, incorporating theatre art and staged readings, and including more local vendors for next year’s festival.

“I do like the idea of incorporating more of the town into the project,” she said, “with people strolling through the town.”

Though Tiny Arts Day in a Tiny Town is only in its second year, it’s clear that it has an important influence.

“We all know what it’s like to be a part of the arts in an urban center like New York City, Albany, or Boston,” McGiver said, “so it’s exceptional for people coming to West Fulton to find that there is such a broad sense of community in such a small place and that they are welcomed into it.”

Volunteers are also welcome. If you would like to help out, contact McGiver at panthercreekarts@gmail.com. You can also contact her if you need ticket sponsorship. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door, and tickets for the storytelling performance are an additional $5.

Tiny Arts Day in a Tiny Town. Saturday, June 4, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. The Hall at Panther Creek Arts, 1468 Sawyer Hollow Rd., West Fulton. panthercreekarts.com.

Field trip: The Rail Trail Cafe

Written by Charlene V. Martoni
Published in The Watershed Post

Above: The Rail Trail Cafe. Photo by Charlene V. Martoni.

A nook off the Wallkill Valley Rail Trail, a 24-mile hiking and biking path through Ulster County, is the last place you’d expect to find a food truck. But that’s just where to look for the Rail Trail Cafe, a non-motorized food cart with a decidedly rustic take on mobile dining.

The kitchen is housed inside a 96-square-foot cabin made of reclaimed wood; a hand-built clay oven sits nearby, and the dining area opens to the lush green canopy overhead.

Husband-and-wife proprietors Brian Farmer and Tara Johannessen have been serving freshly made pizzas, dumplings and baked goods out of the cafe since May. Most of their menu items are made using local products, including microgreens sourced from their own farm, the Farmer’s Table, located a quarter of a mile away. Farmer, who has experience as a professional chef, says that using produce that they grow themselves makes the distance from farm to table even smaller.

Plus, according to Johannessen, it’s just good business practice.

“It’s important to buy and eat local not only because it supports local economy, but also because interfacing with farmers and business owners creates stronger communities,” she said.

Open Friday through Sunday in the warmer months, the cafe serves up hearty items like smoky wood-fired pizza topped with farm-grown zucchini, and steamed dumplings with sesame-ginger-shoyu dipping sauce. Snacks on offer include oat-buckwheat-cranberry scones and Cosmic Nectar Balls, made with raw cacao, pecans, coconuts and dates.

The couple had considered opening a food truck for some time. They stumbled upon the perfect place when they were working their farmland near the rail trail one day, and noticed the amount of foot traffic passing through. Realizing the potential of the spot as a pit stop for hungry hikers, they launched a Kickstarter campaign in 2013 to raise funds. Soon, they had almost $7,000 in startup capital to fund the construction of the cafe’s mobile kitchen, parked on a small plot of land leased from nearby Stone Mountain Farm.

“We wanted to provide a service that relies on the beauty and simplicity of enjoying a meal in the woods,” said Johannessen.

Farmer designed and built the structure himself—with help from Johannessen—out of donated leftover lumber donated by friends and investors. He equipped the 96-square-foot kitchen with refurbished kitchen appliances from Green Demolition and items from Craigslist.

Most of the baking goes down outside the kitchen, however, in the alfresco wood-burning oven, built by Farmer’s friend, Shawn DeRyder, out of a mixture of sand, clay and straw.

Above: Brian Farmer feeding wood into the clay wood-burning oven at the Rail Trail Cafe. Photo by Charlene Martoni.

The Rail Trail Cafe is an eco-friendly operation from stem to stern. The eatery’s seating area is comprised of found tables and chairs that have been upcycled and decorated using leftover paints. Farmer and Johannessen reduce waste by composting food scraps and using biodegradable cups.

The cafe hosts performances by local musicians on Saturday nights, and the owners are hoping to host a speaker series and poetry readings going forward.

“We want the cafe to create a closer community, one that knows itself,” said Johannessen.

The cafe will stay open until Columbus Day weekend, and Farmer and Johannessen plan to return for business next May. Another Kickstarter campaign is in the works to raise funds for improvements like a sheltered seating area and the hiring of additional staff.

The restaurant’s success so far is due mainly to word-of-mouth from customers like Stone Ridge resident Alex Kahan, who stopped for a bite one Saturday afternoon with his girlfriend.

Continue reading “Field trip: The Rail Trail Cafe”

Maple syrup season gets underway in New Paltz

Written by Charlene V. Martoni
Published in The Watershed Post

Six-year-old Lucas Lemos gets a taste of fresh maple sap at Brook Farm in New Paltz.

New Paltz—Three bundled-up boys huddled in the morning mist to catch drops of sap as it trickled out of a freshly drilled 1-inch deep hole in the bark of an old maple tree. Lucas, 6, licked the sap from his finger and looked up at his father, 39-year-old Luciano Lemos of Riverdale, in shock.

“It tastes a little like syrup,” he said, smiling. “Like watered down syrup.”

A handful of folks from all over New York State traveled to Brook Farm on Saturday, February 23 to take part in a maple sugaring prep-work party. The volunteers scrubbed metal buckets for sap collecting and piled up firewood to be used later for distilling the sap. They also set up maple tree taps on the 20-acre property.

The Brook Farm Project is a nonprofit sustainable farm just west of the village of New Paltz. The farm runs on a community supported agriculture (CSA) model, where members purchase shares of the season’s produce and pick up fresh crops each week from June through November.

But Saturday’s gathering was all about harvesting maple syrup, and it proved to be an opportunity for experiential learning. Creek Iversen, a 46-year-old farmer who recently took over as Brook Farm’s new manager, explained that it takes a lot of maple sap to make just a little bit of syrup.

“From each tree you tap,” Iversen said, “you could get about 10 gallons of sap, which will boil down to just about a quart of syrup.”

Iversen told an old Native American legend that explains why it takes so much effort to make maple syrup. A long time ago, Iversen said, people could lick sap right out of the tree and it would be as sweet and tasty as syrup.

“Since it was so easy,” he continued, “people would sit around all day drinking syrup from the maple trees.”

Legend has it that this behavior angered a spirit, who decided to pour water into the trees to weaken the sap.

Stephen Gilman, 44 of Stone Ridge, said he and his son, 6-year-old Ben, enjoy volunteer activities like this that involve some educational aspect. Gilman is the board president of UlsterCorps, a local nonprofit organization that works to connect people with volunteer opportunities.

Gilman said he and his son have a lot of maple trees on their property, so they were interested in learning something about them.

“We got several great things in one morning,” said Gilman. “We got to learn something, support a CSA farm and do something fun.”

The volunteers were encouraged to sing fun work songs, which Iversen explained were traditional on farms to keep workers’ spirits up and to keep them in rhythm when sawing wood or pulling ropes. He also said that some of the songs were meant to help lumberjacks learn the alphabet.

“A is for axe,” he sang, and he soon came to the chorus. “So merry, so merry are we. There’s no one on earth who’s as merry as we,” he belted.

Below: Creek Iversen teaches a group of Brook Farm volunteers a lumberjack alphabet song. Video by Charlene V. Martoni.

Lily Bergstein, a 16-year-old from New Paltz, has been volunteering at Brook Farm since she was 11 years old. She said she enjoys volunteering at the farm because she likes singing, and she is interested in studying sustainable agriculture when she goes to college.

When it came time to tap the trees, Bergstein grabbed the drill and tried it for herself before returning inside to enjoy fresh homemade applesauce and a potluck lunch with the rest of the volunteers.

Iversen’s partner, 31-year-old Lisa Mitten of New Paltz, said that yesterday’s event is one of many to come. On the second Saturday of each month, the Brook Farm Project will host a volunteer workshop. Upcoming workshops will include a seeding party and a how-to on making natural cleaning supplies. The farm’s calendar can be found at brookfarmproject.wordpress.com.

The maple sugar taps that were installed Saturday will be collected, and the sap will be distilled into syrup on March 10 at a workshop where volunteers will learn how to make maple syrup at home.

Across the Catskills and New York State, syrupmakers are getting ready for Maple Weekend, an annual celebration of the harvest featuring events, syrup-making demonstrations and pancake breakfasts. This year, Maple Weekend will span two weekends: March 16-17 and 23-24. More than 110 New York State maple producers will host open houses similar to the ones at Brook Farm. For more information and a schedule of events, visit mapleweekend.com.