The family’s discussion of what to do with the farm continued as Bree and Rich considered their own next steps. They had applied for jobs in major cities but saw potential in the farm’s overgrown orchards and crumbling stone structures. In 2011, after making a six-page list of pros and cons, the Woodbridges chose McCollum Orchards in Lockport over life in a big city. “Our parents thought we were crazy,” says Bree, whose father managed the University of Arizona’s citrus-research farm when she was a child. “They said, ‘You have no idea what you’re getting yourselves into. You have careers. Go on that path.’ ”
Still, their families offered support. Rich’s father, an attorney, is co-owner of the farm, and the couple kicked off restoration projects before they even finished unpacking. The plumbing and electrical systems in the 1830s house hadn’t been updated in 30 to 60 years. Layers of lead paint covered walls and staircases. And Bree and Rich donned respirators to sort through sheds filled with goods accumulated throughout some 100 years, then reinforced foundations and rebuilt the walls of several outbuildings. They completed much of the construction by hand (with the help of parents and friends) after researching a number of renovation techniques online.
As they freshened up the farm’s buildings, the young entrepreneurs also prepared the surrounding land and planted gardens. A year later they were selling more than 40 herb and vegetable varieties at a late-season farm stand on the property. This year, they are expanding that market garden, with plans to open the stand by early June, as well as reviving the heirloom pear and apple orchards that flourished under the management of Rich’s grandmother and his great-grandmother before her. And last fall, Bree and Rich harvested half an acre of hops, which is used in the beer-brewing process (it lends bitterness to beer).
While New York produced the bulk of the nation’s hops in the early 1900s, pests, disease and declining demand during Prohibition destroyed the market. Today, the Pacific Northwest supplies most American hops. But Buffalo, N.Y.-area craft brewers wanted a local option, so Rich and Bree began touring established farms to learn the growing process. Before long, they were using logs from their own trees to create a 21-foot-high trellis system for producing hops. They planted seven varieties, retrofitted an apple-packing shed for processing and hosted a picking party last August.
Ten pounds of harvested centennial hops went to Community Beer Works, a Buffalo nanobrewery that sells small batches of beer to area pubs. Brewer and co-owner Rudy Watkins says the local hops gave his American pale ale more pine and mint character than those sourced from across the country. But, he adds, it’s about more than taste.
“There is something super cool about knowing that your hops, or anything that you would buy at a farmers market, come from right nearby. You actually can meet and build a relationship with the people who grow those things,” says the suburban-Buffalo native.