PUTNAM POSTING: My Visit to Tilly Foster Farm

Jennifer Maher | December 2019

Seeking to learn more about tourist venues in our area, a group that hails from the western side of Putnam County ventured eastward to visit Tilly Foster Farm recently. Our group included individuals from Boscobel House and Gardens, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival and the Cold Spring Chamber of Commerce. Some of us had visited the farm before, but none of us knew its history or the extent of its current operations and plans for the future.

Commissioner of Putnam County’s Department of Highways and Facilities Fred Pena and Putnam County Architect Ben Harrison helped us get up to date on the history of the county’s involvement with the farm. While owning the property has been controversial and costly in terms of the infrastructural improvements required, the county’s preservation of this vulnerable and visible property as open space has contributed to a higher quality of life for its residents.

Tilly Foster Farm Manager Mike McCall reviewed the current operations of the property with us. The renovated barn is receiving increasing interest as an event space (The County’s Office of Tourism and Economic Development Corporation recently held a well-attended “Meet and Greet” for its new leaders there). Tilly’s Table, the restaurant, which just won its first architectural design award, has achieved an operating profit this year given its growing popularity.

However, it is the success of the Tilly Foster’s partnership with the Putnam Northern Westchester BOCES to host a culinary school at the farm that got our attention the most. We met with Christina Holic, chef and long-time instructor, who told us that participation has grown to 25 students. We visited the school’s classroom space, which can accommodate all the students at one time in an attractive and collaborative environment. The process seems to be working as we were treated to an excellent lunch made by the students, which featured a variety of vegetables grown on the farm. In fact, Tilly Foster supplies vegetables for use by Tilly’s Table and all the senior centers in Putnam County.

Looking ahead to the future, Fred and Mike told us about the farm’s current efforts to obtain an organic certification and develop a “You Pick Them” strawberry and raspberry field. The farm also has plans to partner with Columbia University and Cornell Cooperative to develop educational programs and alternative forms of energy for agricultural use.

Tracey Walsh, recently appointed Tourism Director for the county and Kathleen Abels, president of the Putnam County Economic Development Corporation, joined us for lunch and a discussion of tourism and economic development issues that affect both sides of the county. This discussion was cordial, candid, and inclusive. And we all agreed that it be continued.

Our hosts were very friendly and informative in receiving a delegation from Philipstown. The group didn’t solve all the issues facing us. We didn’t expect to. However, we did come to like and respect each other more. Agreeing to meet again, perhaps broadening the participation on both sides, was the natural conclusion to a nice day at Tilly Foster Farm. Thank you to all our hosts. We’ll see you again soon.

Jennifer Maher
Jennifer Maher is chairwoman, the Putnam County Business Council and currently serves as the president of the Putnam/Westchester Chapter of the New York State Commercial Association of Realtors.