Ghent NY

Photography by Valeda Beach Stull

Featuring Mimi Beaven

Where are you from and where do you currently reside?
My mother is English, and my father is French. I was raised in England. Currently I live in Ghent, NY.

Please describe who you are and what you do?
I’m a cook and a farmer. We have a little farm here where we raise chickens, ducks, and we’ve raised pigs in the past, too. I have a commercial kitchen where I bake and make all sorts of things. And I’m a wife and a mother, which should probably go at the top of my list.

What are you working on, interested in at the moment?
We're at a crossroads. It’s one of those times where lots of things are changing at once and we’re trying to regroup. Last year was very different at the farm because of Covid. We closed the store down, aside from pre-orders and pick-ups. Typically we hire people in April to work in the kitchen with me through the busy summer, but we were alone. It was great that we were able to pivot and do as little or as much as we wanted, but it also meant we couldn’t go anywhere. So now we’re trying to figure out what life looks like moving forward. Covid was horrible obviously, but there are some things I hope stay. I liked people being more calm, taking their time. I feel that many have already forgotten that though. It was maybe too much to ask people to calm down permanently.

When do you feel most whole? How do you find your center when you've spiraled out?
Going for a walk. Cooking something not for the store, just for fun. If my husband, Richard were here he’d be laughing, as I’m normally spinning out of control most of the time. We both find it difficult to sit still and do nothing. It's partly a function of our personalities and being small business owners living on site. There's always something to do. I've enjoyed taking things more slowly this past year. Sometimes life can feel like a rollercoaster and you can’t get off. So taking a step back helps me. Taking back control and not feeling pressure to do things because other people think you should be doing them.

Describe a time:
a. You came full circle.
I guess I’ve come full circle now. My father was a chef. My parents had a restaurant for thirty years, as did my French grandparents. That’s where the cooking part of my life comes from. My parents had a tiny place with no employees and we’d help out. We also lived next to a farm, and that’s how I got involved in farming. I went to agricultural college. I got jobs in restaurants because I knew I could do that. We had our daughters and moved to the United States with them in 2002. By then, farming was way off my radar. Someone told us about a house in Ghent, and we bought it in 2005. We were weekenders until 2011, then we became full time residents. In 2012 we bought what is now known as Little Ghent Farm. It was derelict, and it took two years to dig it up out of the mess it was under and get the farm started. We opened the store in 2014. If we hadn’t bought the house in Ghent I might never have reconnected with cooking and farming.

b. You closed the circle. What was the significance of that ending?
Well, I think circles have no end. But we are at a turning point now in our life, so who knows what the next thing will be.

c. You began again.
I don’t know what other people are like, but we don’t make plans. We’ve never had a two or ten year plan or anything. We’ve always decided what we were going to do and just did it. And then when we didn't want to do it anymore we'd stop and do something else. I think we’re lucky we’re like that. So many people feel like they’re trapped in their lives, but it's really their own brain making them think that way. We are no different than anyone else. We moved to America when the kids were little. Richard gave up a successful career in advertising to follow his passion for photography. People were like, I wish I could do that. And I'd say, you can. I understand that people are scared. But I think it’s much more scary to look back and say, I didn’t do it.

Is there an interest or desire you’ve been circling around but have yet to explore?
I have millions of things I want to do. I realized a few years ago that I really like making things with my hands. I took pottery classes when the girls were small. I knit. Recently I took a natural dye class and it was so fascinating. I made willow baskets with a friend recently, too. I’m not great at any of this, but not bad. I’d be perfectly happy having time to do stuff like that.

Which of Nature’s cycles – the moon, seasons, harvest – do you feel most aligned with and why?
I really love the seasons up here. I feel they’re so distinct and each one has really wonderful parts. I’m always really excited about the next season coming, even winter, because things typically slow down and I like being cozy. I don’t mind the cold, I like going out all bundled up. I get very excited about every new thing that will grow. I’m already really excited that the strawberries are here. It's a really big part of how I cook. When it’s rhubarb season, then there’s lots of rhubarb things. And someone will say, where is that rhubarb thing? And I’ll say, we’ve moved on to blueberries! I really like that.

Describe the circles you move in, and what community looks like to you?
Community is a feeling. Many of our customers are lovely and we’ve become friends. We have a small circle of good friends, and I like it that way. I’m not very good at small talk. I don’t like superficiality, so I’d rather have fewer friends but people I can really be honest with. I really like feeding people and seeing people enjoy food and spending time around the table. It’s not just the eating. It’s the community around the table, which of course has been sadly missing for a while now.

What does sustainability mean to you in your work and life?
Sustainability is really important. We are very environmentally conscious on the farm. It doesn’t make us any money really but it’s not losing any money. But no matter what you do, your lifestyle has to be sustainable, too. Life is a marathon. I want to keep going for a long time, so I need to stay in balance. Burnout is a huge problem, especially in America. My parents worked hard, but when they retired, they really had a good time. Life can't just be work and no play or you have no time for anything else.

Do you have a favorite chore on the farm or in the kitchen? A daily activity that never fails to transcend the mundane? A dish you could make with your eyes closed.
I love baking and making sourdough bread. It doesn’t feel like a chore, except when I have lots to do and there’s a deadline and people are coming to pick it up. But I still enjoy doing it. There are so many variables in cooking, particularly in sourdough bread making. It’s a feeling. I’ve made it so many times. The humidity can be different, or the temperature. I can get sidetracked. But I still know when the timer is going to go off, like twenty seconds before it does. When you’re very familiar with something, it's just a feeling.

Mimi is 5.5” tall and wears the Diamond Liner OAT in medium