Its footprint is small, but its flavor is big.
By ML Ball
Photographed by Steven Steele Cawman
If you want to be humbled, become a farmer, says Sarah Friedman. She should know. In 2015, Sarah and husband Aaron Neville, renowned R&B recording artist and one-fourth of the Neville Brothers, bought 12 acres in Pawling, NY, and started Freville Farm, a Certified Naturally Grown (CNG) fruit and vegetable enterprise. Said Sarah recently, “There’s one boss, and that’s Mother Nature.”
Yet for many years, Sarah was her own boss. As a professional photographer in New York, she made a name for herself shooting celebrities, sports stars and CEOs. It was while on assignment for People magazine that she met Aaron.
So how did Sarah, originally from Cleveland, and Aaron, a New Orleans native, end up as fruit and vegetable growers in Pawling?
“I spent my childhood summers on my grandparents’ farm in upstate New York and learned a lot about farming and our relationship to the land,” Sarah said. “Some of my fondest memories are from there.”
It makes sense then that even in Manhattan, Sarah was growing food on a rooftop. (“Everyone in my family has a green thumb,” she explained.) “Then I became very good friends with a woman named Trina who had an organic plant nursery in the Catskills, and I realized I wanted to be involved in agriculture.”
Before long, Sarah and Aaron had given up the city and Sarah was learning how to eviscerate chickens, freeze-dry strawberries, raise honeybees and replicate her Slovak grandmother’s famous fruit leather.
“There are days I don’t even have time to take a shower,” she said. “I have help, but people think that because I’m Aaron’s wife, I have 20 people here and I’m just dictating what to do. Not true. I’m exhausted. I work 12-to-14-hour days.”
Even though Freville Farm is still in its infancy (or “toddler phase,” as Sarah calls it), it sells an impressive line of CNG products, all online, including Aaron’s Elixir, raw honey, three flavors of fruit curd, strawberry fruit leather, dog treats, freeze-dried ice cream and two varieties of Summer in a Bag.
“I let the farm dictate the products,” Sarah said. “Because we grow on such a small area, the fruits and vegetables we produce are for the kitchen. For the things we don’t grow, we try to use local items, like Ronnybrook milk for our ice cream.”
Fiercely committed to sustainability, Sarah describes the concept of Freville Farm as “full circle. We start everything in our greenhouses, and it finishes in the kitchen just a few feet away. Cooking consumes a lot of energy, so we have solar panels. We try to offset the fuel costs of the greenhouse by doing a big spring plant sale, selling heirloom varieties to the community. What’s left over goes to the Pawling Resource Center that donates it to local people in need who have space to grow their own food.”
And what does Aaron think of Sarah’s long hours, planting, picking and freeze-drying? “He’s an incredibly supportive husband who has allowed me to do this crazy adventure,” Sarah said. Who could ask for anything more?
To learn more about Freville Farm and the products they offer, visit www.frevillefarm.com. █