As part of Birkenstock’s 1774 collaboration series, Document Journal meets 10 creatives making the Hudson Valley a kingdom of their own. Hear how the farm translates their community-focused ethos to farming practices.
Discover the full Birkenstock 1774 collaboration series here.
On Kinderhook Farm, co-run by Lee Ranney and his wife Georgia, livestock freely roam about 1,000 acres of pastures and grassy meadows in the Hudson Valley. The animals—including cattle, sheep, and chickens—are fed exclusively grass and legume diets, free of antibiotics.
In addition to keeping their animals healthy and their practices strictly transparent, it’s important to the Ranneys to keep their customers, farmworkers, and farm animals at the forefront of their vision. The farm is a community-oriented space: egalitarian, physically and intellectually open to all. “The community is sort of uniquely about both the farm and outside of the farm. That’s what is so great about it, is that we actually meet our customers face-to-face, and they’re all motivated customers,” Lee Ranney says. “It’s a very diverse background of people and interests and a lot of locals now too. We don’t separate the communities because they’re kind of woven together, and I think that’s what’s also stimulating and exciting about it for us.”
In the past fifteen years, with conscientious consumption and sustainable eating making its way into the mainstream consciousness, Ranney has noticed an increase in customers’ desire to educate themselves on sustainable practices and support small farms. But some things have always remained the same—the happiness of the animals, the importance of the farming collective, and, of course, the natural beauty of the Hudson Valley. “I think it’s the same thing that’s motivating people from the city to come upstate since Thomas Cole and the first wave of artists. It’s the natural beauty and, frankly, an escape from the constant stress of the city, and people really tune into that, and like that,” Ranney says.
While visiting Kinderhook Farm, Document spoke to Anna Hodson, a long-time shepherd, who told us about the practice of sheep herding, her favorite animals, and what inspired her to leave New York City in favor of the pastoral sanctuary of the farm.
Document—Can you tell us the story of how you found this place?
Anna Hodson—My husband and I were living in New York City, and I was a textile conservator. I’m English, and I was going through my green card application and couldn’t work for a while, so we moved up here, where his mom has a weekend house. I started volunteering on a farm for something to do. I really enjoyed it, and I said, ‘maybe we stay up here?’ We were on a different farm at that time, and then we met Georgia [Ranney] and decided to come check this place out. We moved to the farm, and I was taking days off my job at that time to come and herd sheep. I started full time back in 2012, seven years ago, now.
Document—What do you think is the thing you love most about living up here as opposed to New York City?
Anna—Just being outside. I love being able to engage in the seasons. And just seeing the changes of the air, watching the grass grow differently, and the plants change, and the wildlife we get to see and engage with here. It’s just so fun. And we’re outside every day, all the time. It’s just beautiful.
Document—How is the process of learning to herd sheep?
Anna—I think the thing about livestock farming is you have to really love spending time with your animals. You spend a lot of time with them, and you have to enjoy the process of moving them—learning them so well that you can ask them to do all sorts of things. We have to get them to come through gates, go down the road, turn, and that’s what I really enjoy. People come to the farm to stay here, and we always worry about the noise…but they’re usually from New York City. [Laughs]
Document—Do you have a favorite sheep on the farm?
Anna— Well, he was a bottle lamb that I hand raised, and we had a pact that he was going to be a special lamb. He’s my bellwether; he is part of the sheep flock who leads everybody and thus the name “bellwether” comes from sheep herding. He helps me if there is a sick sheep who needs to go back to the barn, he will go back with that sheep because they don’t like to be alone, but he is very human focused and happy to be alone with us, follow us, or just work with us. He’s a sweetheart.
Hair and Grooming Mimi Quiquine at She Likes Cutie. Editor Austin Bailey. Sound Greg Francis. Color Oliver Eid. Photo Assistant Annabelle Snoxall. Production Liana Blum and Patch Ward.