RCBJ-Audible (Listen For Free)
Farm Looking To Diversify To Support the Prosperity Of Agricultural Operations With Red Barn Cidery In A County That’s Dwindled Down To Less Than A Handful Of Working Farms
By Tina Traster
They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and that’s a good thing for Rockland and the region.
Chris Davies Nevin, the great-granddaughter of the pioneering Dr. Davies, who founded the county’s notable and eponymous apple growing farm in 1883, is heading up Red Barn Cidery, a hard cider press that will open in May.
Taking a page from her ancestor, Davies Nevin understands that farming, particularly in a county that’s lost nearly every farm over the past sixty to seventy years, demands innovation and reinvention. The 65-acre farm, which has 4,500 apple trees spanning 40 varieties, has been producing sweet apple cider for eons but the growing demand and popularity of hard cider – and the atmospheric tree-to-table that accompanies the demand – is ripe for the picking.
“People love wineries and breweries and they’re interested in a similar experience with hard cider,” said Davies Nevin. “In order to continue as a farm, farmers must get innovative and figure out additional sources of income. Apple cideries are a form of entertainment. They are a tourist attraction.”
Davies Nevin, the sole owner of Red Barn Cidery, continues to be involved with the Dr. Davies Farm in Congers. Her two brothers, who have full-time jobs, also have a hand in the farm, though it is Janet Davies, their mother, who owns the farm business. Some of the fifth generation or the trio of siblings’ children, participate on the farm but farm families always worry about the future of their enterprise.
Rockland County in the late ’50s had 200 farms. Today, only a handful of working farms remain. Fields over the decades have turned into housing, strip malls and warehousing. The Davies continue to operate a farm that grows apples, peaches, and vegetables. Lucy Virginia Meriweather Davies, who died in 1949, was one of New York State’s first female physicians; she was also a botanist, civil libertarian, suffragist, philosopher, and lover of music and art. She had studied medicine to escape a scandal after she eloped with and then killed her first husband. He had agreed it was self-defense before he died. She married again only to find out years later that her husband had two complete families and two wives.
In 1892, she married Arthur Bowen Davies, an unsuccessful, but later renowned artist, whom she met in 1890 while chief resident physician at the New York Infant Asylum. Her parents bought her a farm. Arthur and Meriwether had two sons, Niles Meriwether Davies, Sr. and Arthur David Davies.
The late Niles Meriwether Davies Jr., a legendary figure in the county, was Davies Nevins’ dad.
Like her great-grandmother, Davies Nevin was attracted to the medical field; she recently retired from being a nurse practitioner. For several years, she’s been working on opening the apple cidery, which will hire about a half dozen workers. Red Barn Cidery has secured a federal farm winery license and a temporary state license from the New York State Liquor Authority.
The entrepreneur says the farm is agriculturally zoned for a cidery. It has been producing sweet apple cider for years. Once 110 acres, the farm, located on the eastern flank of Lake DeForest, has three times been the target of eminent domain, and is nearly half its original size.
Davies Nevin says development pressures constantly threaten farms.
“The only kind of rich farmer is one who sells his land,” said the cidery operator. “But we just want to continue this farm. To do so, we need to build another business with a revenue stream to help support the farm.”
The cidery will include a sprinkling of picnic tables for imbibing. Red Barn Cidery will sell cider, as well as beer and wine, on tap and in cans. As it has always done, the operation will continue to feature local bands and local food trucks during farm business hours.
Davies Nevins stresses “This will continue to be a family venue, not a bar.”
The entrepreneur is sensitive to the brouhaha swirling around Rockland Cider Works in Orangeburg, the only existing but non-operating hard cidery in the county. It is tied up in litigation with angry neighbors. Rockland Cider Works has run a state-licensed farm-winery on about seven acres of its the Van Houten family farm since the fall of 2019. In March, the Town of Orangetown, at the cidery’s expense, hired Laberge Group, a planning consultant to review the petition for a zone change that was filed by Rockland Cider Works and to make recommendations to the Town Board with regard to any potential zone change. The town has maintained that the Van Houten Farm is not zoned for an apple cidery business.
Davies Nevins said she won’t have the same hurdle.
“We’ve been to the Town of Clarkstown and we don’t need any zoning change for what we are doing.”