One minute you're on the highway just 30 minutes north of New York City, and the next, you're on a working farm in Pocantico Hills, NY; a spectacularly-run, pristine 80-acre, four-seasons farm, formerly belonging to the Rockefeller estate. No matter how many times I've visited The Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, and I've lost count at this point, I keep coming back for the store, which serves double duty as a visitor center. Okay, and for buttery croissants from Blue Hill's cafe, and to admire the meticulous rows of herbs and veggies at various stages of growth in the greenhouse. But the store is so central and welcoming, with its flower cart parked outside and hanging plants and watering cans lining the windows, that for a moment, you get to live in a world that is really that beautiful. It's fun to imagine all the ways in which you might incorporate those products into your home. The mastermind behind it all is Anna Bella Guggenheimer, who, as store buyer, is responsible for hand picking all of the products you see, and acting as a liaison between the farm and the store. She graciously walked me around on a recent Wednesday morning, pointing out all her favorite American designers, the buying process, and how she finds new artists to showcase.
What's a typical day like for you?
Half my day is spent coordinating with the farm and that's the most fun part of this job. Since I started, we've brought in the freezer and the refrigerator, so we always have eggs, salad greens, some kind of flower, and meat. And there's usually a sea of boxes to go through, because the store is closed on Monday and Tuesday. We quickly unpack everything and set it up because we want to show off all the new merchandise.
What's your criteria for deciding what to buy?
The mission of the farm is a great filter for me as I'm out there looking for things to sell. I either want the product to be a wonderful tool that's going to last a lifetime, or something so beautiful that it's going to enhance someone's daily chores.
How do you find most of your featured designers?
More and more, people are reaching out to me directly, and we of course go to the gift shows. I also spend a lot of time on Pinterest. All of my friends have such good style and they're connected to so many great people in the design world that I feel like every night I get a little infusion.
About a year ago, I noticed you added the freezer and refrigerator. What led to this decision?
We're really trying to offer the farm an additional market. We made a shift last season from a three day a week farmer's market to a one day a week, so it's especially hard on the four seasons team. The restaurant (Blue Hill) buys the majority of food produced here, but there is quite a bit leftover, and it's nice that we're able to sell that here. Plus, this is my idea of what the farm market should be. Everyone should be able to go home with a piece of what we're doing here on the farm, and the eggs are definitely the best souvenir.
How do you operate as a visitor's center?
I have an amazing staff, and we are greeting people all day long and helping them get the most out of their visit. A lot of people don't know what to do once they get here, and we always know the most special thing that's happening on the farm at that moment.
What's the most special thing happening today?
We have almost 70 lambs down in the barn! The greenhouse is spectacular year-round, but right now it's really exciting. Also, walking into the terrace gardens is a forgotten place (the hill behind the greenhouse). People don't know they can access it, but they can, and it's where all the herbs and flowers are grown. Every morning, those ladies bring me whatever is freshest. They do the most beautiful arrangements, and they're always mixed with herbs or vegetables.
I understand your farmer's market will be starting up soon!
Yes, the second Sunday in May. We sell our own meat and vegetables, and Red Barn, a local bakery in Irvintgon, NY, sells baked goods at their booth. The Real Live Amazing Food Company comes down from Pine Plains in the northern Hudson Valley to sell beautiful cheeses and milk.
What's your favorite thing about working here?
I spent 10 years doing visuals at Fishs Eddy and Anthropologie, but I was never a buyer, so merchandising has been the perfect evolution for me. It's so much fun, because now I get to tell the whole story. It also helps that I love this place so much. I think that what is being done here is very important, so I do whatever I can to support it.
Can you walk me through some of the American designers you're most excited about?
Claudia Pearson is one of our favorites and she's currently doing a custom piece of art for the farm, which she's having printed on dish towels, a market tote and an apron, which she'll sign at our annual sheep shearing festival on May 3rd. Everything she does is hand silk-screened in Brooklyn, and she works to find all local producers. For example, her aprons are hand-sewn in Queens and the bags are coming from a woman in Vermont.
ABG: I really love Annabel from Wolfum. She was a textile designer, which I think you can tell when you look at her work, and her husband is a woodworker. A few years ago they started Wolfum together, and I loved it the minute I saw it. It's done so well for us.
ABG: Judy Jackson is one of my favorite local artists. I think her colors are so beautiful. She's one of the founding members of the Tribeca Artists Guild. She does a lot of work with restaurants, so all her pottery is bakeable; you can put it in the dishwasher and microwave.
ABG: The DIY cheese kits from Urban Cheesecraft are a logical fit since most of our audience is interested in food and in making things themselves, or at least trying to. All you need is the milk—everything else is in the kit!
ABG: The beads (above) are by LA-based Ronni Kappos, whom I adore. She's collected vintage German beads over a decade of European road trips, and creatively puts them together to be totally new creations. They have such good movement.
ABG: Hudson Valley Seed Library hires local artists to do their packaging. We have a great relationship with them and we're in the middle of some interesting seed trials. Last year they packaged a panther edamame for us that hadn't been available commercially for at least 10 years.
ABG: We just today got some jewelry from Jen Goff of Takara. Jen was actually a farmer before she decided her true love was jewelry design. Her pieces are all hand-forged brass and hand spun and dyed silk.
ABG: Finally, I know these milking stools are not American—they're made by an architect in Mexico—but it's such a wonderful story. She works with Mayan weaving communities to bring trendier design to their traditional handiwork. There's a vintage Sesame Street documentary that my daughter loves, about a little girl in Appalachia who makes a stool of her own. She really believes—and hopefully this is the best thing I've ever instilled in her—that any idea you have, you can create.
Thank you for giving us such an in-depth look into your world at Stone Barns, Anna Bella!