Washington County Makers and Doers: CapNY Entrepreneurs

A constellation of small towns sprinkled across a largely rural landscape, Washington County prides itself on its attention to community.

Creatives who call this region home draw inspiration from the county’s abundant natural beauty, relaxed pace of life and collaborative spirit.

A Cultural Heartbeat

Washington County makers and doers have a down to earth pride. Together, they’re shaping a distinctive cultural heartbeat. For Washington County creatives, strength lies in amazing folks embracing its infinite possibility.

Grower: Stephinie Miner, Sweetbrier Farms

Stephanie Miner, Sweetbrier Farms

Location: Salem

Stephinie Miner is a plant caretaker and herbal product maker. Her passion for making safe and natural herbal remedies led to the founding of Sweetbrier Farms five years ago. She envisioned a space for connecting people to the power of plants and wild places.

Her family of six spent two decades traveling with the Coast Guard. Then Miner and her husband Joe decided to lay down roots. Washington County offered everything they wanted: day trip access to nearby cities, abundant nature and quiet tranquility.

Sweetbrier Farms is situated on thirty-five acres of mostly wooded land in Salem. They grow two dozen varieties of medicinal herbs along with a sizable vegetable garden. The small orchard is cultivated through a blend of permaculture and biodynamic practices. Stephinie and Joe are careful to balance their human presence with that of resident wildlife. To do so, they reserve rough pasture during the summer for pollinators and forest animals.

The Sweetbrier catalogue mainstays include herbal tinctures, salves and organic soap featuring plants grown or wild-harvested on their land. The farm also runs a unique apothecary style CSA. Members receive a selection of seasonally curated herbal wellness goods to support their health. Stephinie and Joe are also in the process of constructing a workshop-guest cabin on their property. This summer, Sweetbrier will provide COVID safe “farm stay” immersive opportunities with the farm’s thoughtfully stewarded landscape.

Find Stephinie’s Sweetbrier Farm herbal products on her website https://sweetbrierfarms.com/. Look for them locally at the Cambridge Co-op in Cambridge.

Culture: David Snider, Hubbard Hall

David Snider, Hubbard Hall

Location: Cambridge

David Snider believes in art’s potential for individual and collective transformation. His commitment as Hubbard Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director derives from that foundation. With dual roles, he manages both the operational and creative dimensions of the institution. Snider is motivated by “feeling and seeing how the work affects people’s lives.”

Established in 1878 by Mary and Martin Hubbard, Hubbard Hall is a performance venue and community town square. The building proudly features one of the country’s few remaining operational 19th century vaudeville theaters.

The organization’s mission -– to develop, sustain and promote the cultural life of its rural community –- is evident in their year-round programming. Courses in the arts are available for folks of all ages and skill levels. Students from the high school drama club are coached and nurtured on the historic stage. Artists in residence share work in progress with Cambridge residents. From local emerging talent to renowned professionals such as composer Rupert Holmes and dancer Twyla Tharpe, Hubbard Hall holds space for passionate creatives. Other initiatives include Breaking Bread, a LGBTQIA+ monthly potluck fostering regional relationship building.

After thirteen years of living and working in Washington D.C., David and his family relocated to Cambridge. The town’s close knit social fabric and natural beauty captivated the Snider family. As the largest arts institution in Washington County, Snider knows Hubbard Hall carries both great responsibility and big opportunity. His efforts are a welcome contribution to the creative lifeblood of Washington County.

Baker: Ashley McCuin, Coffee And

Ashley McCuin, Coffee And

Location: Cambridge

Ashley McCuin’s artisanal bakery business, Coffee And, provides customers with comforting nourishment. The name, Coffee And, is a phrase from her partner’s grandmother, a short form for “coffee and a treat while chatting with a friend.” Ashley hopes her baked goods can encourage patrons to take a moment for self care and relaxation amidst the daily grind.

Grounded in nostalgic crowd favorites, Coffee And’s repertoire spans from classic to nouveau. Ashley’s Everything Bagel Scones include chunks of cream cheese and everything bagel topping. Kouign amanns – muffin shaped croissants topped with a sugar glaze – sit alongside stellar rye rolls.

Born and raised in Cambridge, Ashley returned to southern Washington County after a handful of years in Burlington, Vermont. She shares, “I know there’s a future here in these small towns. I walk down Main Street and imagine all the possibilities.” Ashley is also a strong advocate for small business. “Shopping local” cultivates a vibrant local economy and quality employment.

You’ll find Ashley’s Coffee And products on Fridays at the Cambridge Food Co-op in Cambridge and Iron Coffee in Hoosic Falls, as well as on Sunday at her farm stand located at the Cambridge Valley Farmers Market in Cambridge.

Community: Devin Bulger, Comfort Food Community

Devin Bulger, Comfort Food

Location: Greenwich

Devin Bulger founded Comfort Food Community in 2014 to address food scarcity amongst low-income individuals and families in Washington County. Devin spent several years in Colorado engaging in homelessness advocacy work. Upon returning to his rural hometown of Greenwich he recognized an unmet need. Comfort Food Community supports low-income residents in a largely agricultural area with quality nourishment. The organization utilizes a multi-pronged approach in supporting county residents. Comfort Food has local pantries in Greenwich and Cossayuna. The popular community garden space located in the village of Greenwich provides connection and supplements the pantry shelves .

CFC’s food recovery initiative serves as its farm facing arm. In a collaborative effort, staff and employees collect farm fresh produce that would otherwise be composted or fed to animals. The produce is distributed through food pantries and directly to residents through a network of local partners. The community health component, in partnership with Hudson Headwaters Health Network and CDPHP, includes Food Farmacy and Produce Prescription programs. Devin appreciates how his work and personal life positively inform each other in a small town context.

Comfort Food Community is a prime example of how Washington County makers and doers play a role in sharing abundance. Devin’s work affirms for us what can be harvested when a valuable seed is planted in fertile ground.

Artist: Rachel Bauscher, Esoteric Energy Design

Rachel Bauscher, Esoteric Energy

Location: Coila

Rachel Bauscher;s Esoteric Energy Design blends her love of natural beauty and wearable art. Her residence in the hamlet of Coila is a stone’s throw from the village of Cambridge. The location allows her ample opportunity to collect the organic materials she lovingly incorporates into her work. Rachel might weave a robin feathers from a nearby maple into a pair of jewel-toned leather earrings. A quartz-veined stone from the Battenkill River and forgotten vintage beads from a second hand store find new life in a bracelet merging classic and contemporary.

One of Rachel’s favorite practices is designing custom jewelry. She likens the experience to pulling a tarot card specific to her client. The piece emerges, and the wearer feels a part of a collaborative process.

As a local who left the area and returned eight years ago, Rachel enjoys the generous landscape that Washington County offers her and her family of five. She derives inspiration directly from the elements. Her children have the opportunity to grow alongside the plant and animal life found right outside of their doorstep.

Written by: Rio Riera Arbogast

Rio Riera Arbogast is a freelance writer focused on how creative entrepreneurship impacts the Capital Region’s cultural landscape. You can follow them on Instagram and Twitter at @riorawrites.