I always thought that the best way to discover what was made in the Finger Lakes was to cruise down country roads and stop at farm stands. After all, this is agricultural land, right? But visiting Skyland Farm gave a whole new meaning to one-stop shopping.
Stepping in from a chilly rainstorm, my first impression was warmth. Not only was the renovated barn toasty with the heat of two wood-burning stoves, but the environment was one that invited me to look, to touch, to smell, and to savor.
Barbara Hummel and her husband, Gregg Hardy, have spent years bringing the concept of Skyland Farm into being. “We bought this 102-acre farm seven years ago, thinking we’d use the barn to sell our own farm products,” explains Barbara. “But we began to realize just how many exquisite products are made right here in the Finger Lakes. We thought, wouldn’t it be wonderful to feature all these handcrafted items right here!”
It took three years to find the artists and crafts people who represent some of the best the area has to offer. You can find the work of nearly 300 people here, many of whom run farms and create these items during the winter months.
The gift shop that occupies most of the first floor boasts some unique products. You’ll find pints of locally produced maple syrup, honey, and free-range eggs in a rainbow of colors collected right at the farm. Look for herb-stuffed sachets, violet candies, hand-carved night lights, and lavender-infused chocolate syrup.
The work of local artisans abounds here: photographs of the Finger Lakes (including those by Roger Soule, who contributes to this magazine); skeins of hand-dyed wools; beeswax candles made using old European molds such as Mary with Child, turkeys, pinecones, and beehives; glass-blown ornaments and stained-glass window hangings; walking sticks; copper water fountains; and mirrors edged with polished Seneca Lake stones.
Skyland Farm offers an extensive variety of herbal and flower products as well. For a relaxing evening, try a rose-infused “tea” for the bath. Maybe you have a special friend who’d enjoy delicate pressed-flower stationery or pearl-edged journals, two of which Oprah herself owns. Pick up a bouquet of dried flowers grown in the Finger Lakes National Forest, uphill from the farm. Try some rose petal jelly or homemade soaps in peppermint, lavender, or rosemary. There are several lines of specialty soaps, some made from Holstein milk, and others infused with essential oils and aromas.
Barbara has been throwing pots since she was 13 years old. If you’re lucky, you might find her at work at either her indoor or outdoor studio, or slipping a few items into the kiln. Her studio is filled with pottery in her signature aqua and teal glaze tones.
A Barn With a Twist
The barn that is the focal point of Skyland Farm began as a 200-year-old structure that needed a lot of work. Gregg designed and renovated the entire building himself, hiring out very little of the labor.
If you look around, you’ll see his touch everywhere, from the curved branches that support the balcony to the full-size tree – yes, tree – set right in middle of the café. “We use the tree as a way to get from the first floor to the second,” explains Barbara. “Gregg custom-fitted the tree to the space and had a crane lift it into place. Then he built a spiral staircase around the trunk so that you can enjoy the view from the second floor as you have a bite to eat.”
Flowers, Frogs, and Farm Animals
The gardens at Skyland Farm open to a sweeping view of Seneca Lake. The entire front yard, which until recently was nothing more than pasture land, is now home to several flower and herb gardens. One garden, surrounded by a rustic wooden fence of Gregg’s design, is grown exclusively for U-pick bouquets. Another is fed by a man-made stream that trickles from the barn to a frog pond, ringed with water lilies and showered by a rotating fountain.
One of the more exotic gardens is the labyrinth, a scaled-down version of one found at the Chartres Cathedral in France. Hidden along the spiraling paths are words etched in stones and flowers to encourage visitors to reflect, heal, and find inspiration.
Children will find plenty to keep themselves occupied. They can enjoy the gardens, dig for dinosaur eggs in the huge covered sandbox, or pet the goats and sheep. For fun, children can use a pulley to hoist food to the goats in the second story of the shed. Barbara mentions that parents love to stop by, enjoy a cup of tea and a treat, and let their children explore what the farm has to offer.
Don’t Miss the Gelato
One of the main attractions of the farm is its brightly lit café, featuring light lunches such as quiches, soups, salads, and an impressive assortment of cakes, tarts, mousses, and animal-shaped cookies. When you visit, don’t overlook one of the crown jewels of the place: its Italian ice cream and sorbets, commonly known as gelato.
“Our gelato is one of the few items that isn’t locally produced,” mentions Barbara. “We have it shipped from an Italian chef in New York City. His company has found a way to make the most delightful and intense flavors.” Barbara goes on to explain that gelato is processed with less butterfat and air than ice cream, giving it a more concentrated flavor and dense texture.
And oh, those flavors! White chocolate lavender, espresso, passion fruit, champagne rose petal, Valrona chocolate, grapefruit campari sorbet, and hazelnut biscotti were just a few of the flavors offered. I left with several samples, the most impressive of which was the mint. It brought to mind mornings in the garden that started with a refreshing mint leaf on the tongue.
A Skyland Sampling
Here are just a few of the unique items you can find on display at Skyland Farm.
Look for Jean Anoths’ stunning replicas of Seneca Lake vistas in stained glass. She captures the essence of grapes ripening on the vine and adds whimsical touches such as dragonflies and hummingbirds.
Sue Poe has wool headgear for every occasion, from jester hats complete with tiny bells to St. Nick caps and birthday party hats.
Andrea Eschler has found a creative use for the smooth, flat stones she collects at the lakeshore. You’ll find them set into mirrors, picture frames, trivets, and coasters, often accented with washed lake glass and stained glass.
Skyland Farm is located in Hector, just seven miles north of Watkins Glen on Route 414. The farm is open from Memorial Day through December 21st. Hours vary seasonally; call (607) 546-5050 or click on www.skylandfarm.net for more information.
by Joy Underhill, photographs by Kristin Grove
Joy Underhill is a freelance writer who lives in Farmington. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.