When Ryan Corwith inherited the Water Mill farmland that has been in his family for five generations, he knew he’d have to make some changes to keep up with the times and survive. Working alongside his cousin, Richie Corwith, Corwith has tried to find more innovative ways to make the most out of the 200 acres of property at their disposal. Half of that is still devoted to what the family has been doing since the beginning — growing potatoes. But in recent years, the farm has become more diverse in terms of its focus, growing nursery stock and bringing other crops to market.
The most significant changes for Corwith have come in last two years, however, as they’ve worked to ride the agri-tourism wave, opening a farm stand and pick-your-own operation on Head of Pond road in Water Mill. In a short time, the farm stand has become a success, finding ways to stand out from the increasing number of other stands that attract customers in the area.
One of the biggest attractions has been its goat yoga classes, currently offered on Tuesday evenings. Once the decision was made last year to put a building on the property and operate a farm stand, Corwith and his longtime girlfriend, Gina Geness, had what she described as “all this space and a blank canvas.” So they decided to start the u-pick operation in the fall, and also rescued several sheep and goats from a slaughterhouse auction in New Holland, Pennsylvania.
People will go to every farm stand if every farm stand is a little bit different. It’s all about how are we going to stand out?Ryan Corwith
Geness said they figured the animals would be a nice additional attraction for people coming to the farm to pick pumpkins and other fruits and vegetables in the fall. But she started to hear the same feedback from many of the customers.
“People kept asking, ‘Are you going to do goat yoga?’” Geness said.
Earlier this month, on a cold and blustery Saturday, several women laid out their yoga mats on the hardwood floor inside a small building at the farm stand visible from the road. A space heater hummed in the corner and music floated from a stereo while Geness led the women through a series of beginner yoga poses. She got up from her mat frequently, scooping up a baby goat and gently placing it on the back of a woman in the downward dog position. Sometimes they hopped off immediately; others scurried onto backs or into laps on their own, looking for a sweatshirt string to gently nibble, or curling up and closing their eyes in satisfaction as they were pet and fussed over.
Geness and Corwith said they’ve been pleasantly surprised at how popular goat yoga has been, pointing out that even in the slow winter months, the classes fill up quickly.
Figuring out the best way to maximize their strengths and keep things interesting is key to surviving, Corwith said, noting that the days of simply growing a staple crop and bringing it to market as a means of making a living are, essentially, over for local farmers.
“We have these animals, so we think, what else can we do with them? Because they cost money to feed every day,” he said. “So we make goat milk soap, and do goat yoga. It brings more people to the farm. I have this dream of having a round pen out in the field with zinnias and sunflowers growing around the outside of it, and people doing yoga with the goats in this peaceful spot.”
“You have to be different,” he continued. “People will go to every farm stand if every farm stand is a little bit different. It’s all about how are we going to stand out?”
Running a thriving farm stand that offers a variety of vegetables and other products for sale involves a steep learning curve, Corwith said, but he’s excited about the future. In addition to expanding the goat yoga aspect of the farm, he’s hoping to continue growing a greater variety of crops, expand the u-pick operation during the harvest seasons, and possibly open a kitchen, which would allow them to make and sell popular foods like basil pesto. It’s all in service to continuing his family’s long farming legacy.
“We’re just trying to find new ways to make money and keep the farm alive,” Corwith said. “It’s a major learning curve when you’re trying to do something like this. It’s been an extraordinary amount of work and probably four or five years of learning. But now we’re at the point where we have the building, the refrigeration units, the greenhouses, and all the infrastructure that had to be built.”
For Corwith, it’s been a labor of love.
“I love watching things grow,” he said. “If you don’t, you shouldn’t be a farmer.”