A family’s farming legacy

If you would have told Laura DeMaria that one day she’d become the third generation to farm the land that has been in her family for the better part of a century, she might have laughed in your face.

Though Laura grew up on Hemlock Hill farm in Cortlandt Manor and spent her days serving as her father’s shadow as he carried out daily tasks, from erecting fences to feeding cattle, she had her eyes set on the big city.

When the time came to carve out her own path, Laura went off to college and later landed a job with MTV in Manhattan, spending her days commuting to the office in Times Square and heading back to the farm each night.

But it wasn’t long — six months, to be exact — before she realized her future was at Hemlock Hill.

“This was where I wanted to be,” she says on a recent brisk fall afternoon, gesturing to the open fields her family has owned for generations.

The farm has been in the DeMaria family since 1939, when Laura’s grandfather, Bronx-born Nicolas J. DeMaria, fulfilled his city-kid dreams of farm ownership and purchased the 120-acre property. After discovering the scores of hemlock trees that dotted his new land, DeMaria christened the farm Hemlock Hill.

Laura’s father, John, took over the farm in 1957 after tragedy struck the family and the eldest DeMaria passed away. The Cornell-educated son expanded the farm’s operations to include a butcher shop and began selling products direct to consumers.

Today, Hemlock Hill stands as one of the largest family-owned farms in the region. The DeMarias raise an assortment of livestock, from cattle and pigs to ducks and turkeys, along with fresh produce.

“My father was pressured to sell this farm for years and went through hard times,” Laura says, “and now it’s really paying off.”

Like her father before her, Laura is also looking for new opportunities for the farm.

Hemlock Hill recently opened a newly renovated market that will greet customers year-round. The store sells a range of their all-natural, farm-raised meats, as well as their fresh produce and more than 200 local products.

Another new addition to the farm property is a food truck, which features cheeseburgers, bacon and egg sandwiches and other dishes that incorporate Hemlock Hill meats and vegetables.

“It’s just really unique here,” she says. “We are raising the livestock, we are processing the livestock, we are selling it direct to you all on the same farm.”

Local chefs have taken notice. Dave DiBari, the man behind the ever-popular The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry, is a longtime customer, sourcing eggs, chicken and pork from the farm. Nearby eateries, including Peekskill Brewery and Birdsall House, are among two of the largest local restaurant partners.

“Chefs love fresh meat, they have a thing against frozen meat, so this is really going to open up a lot of opportunities to work with restaurants and small grocery stores to sell our meat,” she says.

Renting out the property for special occasions is also something the farm plans to explore in the future. Already it has already hosted a fall barbeque and turkey tasting for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“This is a beautiful location,” she says. “A lot of people want to have a private events here. We’re open to it.”

In order to take advantage of the farm’s new, modern look, Hemlock Hill plans to host a farm dinner Dec. 16, offering guests a chance to sample some of its delicacies courtesy of Bonnie Briar Country Club chef Matthew O’Connor. A sneak peek at the menu yielded paté with mustard seed caviar and pickle relish, glazed pork belly and wine pairings from Peekskill’s Dylan’s Wine Cellar.

“It’s exciting,” Laura says. “There’s so much opportunity and everyone is so excited that we’re here.”

So, how does the elder DeMaria feel about all the changes coming to the farm?

“There’s almost 50 years between my father and I, so that’s a huge generational gap,” says Laura, who lives in a quaint home just across a stone path from her father and the house she grew up in. “My dad is pretty progressive in the way he thinks. He gets it. He’s open to the change.”

For more, visit hemlockhillfarm.com.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *