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First Look: Forts Ferry Farm Shoppe

Among the storefronts of Warren St. in Hudson, NY, you’ll find one in the 500-block with an eye catching pistachio-colored facade, blue-and-white diamond-shaped signage overhanging its entryway, with latticework window displays, hinting at a wondrous world of culinary marvels within.

Step inside and experience the newly-opened Forts Ferry Farm Shoppe, which is the latest stop on a long journey for restaurateur-turned-farmer Emma Hearst and her husband, fellow chef John Barker.

Hearst’s professional career in food began in 2008, in the restaurant scene of downtown Manhattan, where she opened popular Italian kitchen Sorella and the adjacent gelateria Stellina on Allen Street with her former Culinary Institute of America classmate Sarah Krathen. 

In 2015, Hearst and Barker, also a Culinary Institute grad, decamped for Upstate New York, purchasing a 100 acre property in the town of Latham (Barker comes from a farming background in Ohio, while Hearst grew up in New York’s capital region).

“If we’re going to have a farm, we’re going to grow cool-ass food”

The property they acquired was one of the last remaining working farms in the Capital Region, where much of the natural farmland has been swallowed up by strip malls and housing developments.

“Food is the greatest love affair of my life, but I never thought I’d have a farm,” Hearst admitted to us during our first visit to her shop. “But I told [John], ‘if we’re going to have a farm, we’re going to grow cool-ass food.’ So we grew all the varieties that we wanted to use ourselves as chefs.”

It was a challenge from the start. “We had no infrastructure on the farm. We had no electricity, no utilities. The local Amish came by to help us put up fencing, and they joked that we were worse off than they were. But we were so excited when the first vegetables started sprouting up.”

Over the last near-decade, Hearst and Barker have progressively returned that piece of land to its former glory, developing it into Forts Ferry Farm, which grows roughly 300 varieties of predominantly heirloom herbs, vegetables, and flowers on their three farmable acres.

Giving back to the local community was a big part of their mission from the beginning, and that persists to this day. “As we built more infrastructure on the farm and expanded our knowledge, we expanded our programming. We did and still do a lot of work with local non-profits. We do a lot of work with youth on education about food and farming, and bringing schools out to our farm. We consult on and maintain public gardens for schools in the capital region.”

“Something for everyone to have fun with”

As operations on the farm expanded, the couple needed an outlet to sell what they were growing. But difficulties dealing with the town of Latham on the development of a farmstand led Hearst and Barker to look instead just 40 miles south, to Hudson. Here, they found and purchased a townhouse on Warren St. that would serve as both their shop and family home.

“We had been frequenting the Hudson area more and more, and we just find this city and the community to be special and unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” Hearst recalled. “We have been welcomed here with such open arms— from the fellow shop owners, to the people who live here, to the people who visit. It’s saved our business and we’re thrilled to be a part of this community.”

Forts Ferry Farm Shoppe
Not all food is edible, as appealing as it might look!

They renovated the building to accommodate for their new storefront and upstairs living quarters. For the store space, Hearst collaborated with her friend, interior designer Michelle Smith of Studio MRS. “I was going for a European-vibe, drawing French and English inspiration throughout the shop,” Hearst explained to us. 

Ultimately, she was looking to create a space that evoked what she described as “Alice in Wonderland, on a foodie acid trip.”

That means lots of trompe-l’œil-style painting throughout, faux decorative food (like giant ceramic Liebniz cookies that function as trivets) among their edible delicacies, and European-sourced antiques— some for sale, some just meant to be admired en place. 

The diversity of the products you’ll find at the shop is a testament to Hearst’s multivariate interests and passions. Most of all, she wanted to create a place where everyone would feel welcome and be able to walk away with something they fell in love with.

“There are fifty-cent items, and there are multi-thousand dollar items, but there is something for everyone here— something for everyone to have fun with.”

That’s clearly a big part of what inspires Hearst, as evidenced by the “Have Fun” mosaic emblazoned on the floor at the shop’s entryway.

Forts Ferry Farm Shoppe
The sentiment can be found throughout the store

The shop offers the culinarily-inclined a wide variety of seasonal produce and flowers delivered directly from their farm, as well as all manner of prepared foods from their own production kitchen, like potato-leek soup, garlic and lemon hummus, and ready to reheat meals, like chicken and spinach roulade with walnut farro. 

You’ll also find products and antiques sourced from around the globe for cooking, decorating and entertaining— everything from mandolines imported from Japan, to vintage sterling silver serving platters, to chip clips shaped like actual ridged potato chips.

In addition, they have their own lines of Forts Ferry hot sauce, honey, and granola for sale.

Forts Ferry grows all the chili peppers that go into their hot sauces— all hand-planted, grown, picked, and produced, bottled and labeled. You’ll find a whole colorful spectrum of them on a shelf— from the Green Chile Pepper Sauce, which incorporates tomatillos, through the Red Chile Pepper Sauce, whose heat is tempered by honey and agave.

The farm is also home to an apiary operation, with on-premise beekeeper, producing a variety of honeys. We tasted their spring harvest variety— light and floral— as well as the fall harvest, which is richer and with a more robust flavor.

Forts Ferry Farm Shoppe- Emma Hearst
Forts Ferry Farm Shoppe owner Emma Hearst

The stand-out, though, is their creamed honey— created by taking crystallized honey fed into non-crystallized honey and keeping it at a constant temperature for several weeks. The result is a chewy, maple butter-style honey that’s incredible simply as a spread on toast.

Their two currently-available granola flavors are sesame coconut, and cherry almond, which has a hint of caraway. Both are sweetened with olive oil and maple syrup, and the team is working to deliver more flavors later this year.

Among all this, Hearst somehow found time to work on a new cookbook— her second. It’s titled Flavors from the Farm, and is available for preorder as of time of writing. Hearst described its theme as “vegetable-forward, easy at home cooking or entertaining, that’s meant to serve as inspiration for any farmer’s market haul.”

Beyond all these new products and offerings, Hearst looks forward to collaborating with more Hudson-area businesses, as well as expanding on their food education programs.

With all these ventures to keep up with, we asked Hearst what continues to motivate her, and her answer was refreshingly simple: “Everybody deserves great food.”

Forts Ferry Farm Shoppe (554 Warren St.) is now open Thursday through Saturday from 11am to 6pm. Try the hot sauces, creamed honey, and granola. Words by Alexandre Petraglia. Photos by Allison Valiquette. Farm and shop exterior photos courtesy of James Barker.

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