The creatives – our makers and doers in Washington County – who call this region home draw inspiration from the natural beauty. The sprawling small towns within a largely rural landscape offer a relaxed pace of life and collaborative spirit.
The Cultural Heartbeat of Washington County
There is a loving, down to earth pride in the artisans and organizers here. A blend of longtime residents and recent arrivals, they all have a part in shaping a distinctive cultural heartbeat.
Sweetbrier Farms, Plant Caretaker and Herbal Product Maker: Stephinie Miner
Sweetbrier Farms was established five years ago out of Stephinie Miner’s passion for making safe and natural herbal remedies. Her products connect people to the power of plants and wild places.
After two decades of traveling with a family of six via the Coast Guard, Stephinie and her husband Joe wanted to lay down roots. Washington County offered everything they wanted, with access to nearby cities, as well as abundant nature and tranquility. Sweetbrier is situated on thirty-five acres of mostly wooded land in Salem. The farm boasts two dozen varieties of medicinal herbs, and a sizable vegetable garden. And, they nurture a small orchard, cultivated through permaculture and biodynamic practices. Stephinie and Joe live in balance with the resident wildlife, too. A good bit of rough pasture is left for neighboring pollinators and forest animals to enjoy.
The Sweetbrier catalogue is ever growing. Mainstays include herbal tinctures, salves and organic soap featuring plants grown or wild-harvested on their land. Additionally, they run a unique apothecary style CSA, providing members with seasonally curated herbal wellness goods. Stephinie and Joe are also constructing a workshop and guest cabin for “farm stays,” so visitors can enjoy the landscape for themselves.. Plans for herbalism classes and apprenticeship programs are also in the works.
Find Sweetbrier Farm herbal products on their website as well as at the Cambridge Co-op in Cambridge.
Hubbard Hall, Executive and Artistic Director: David Snider
David Snider is Hubbard Hall’s Executive and Artistic Director, managing both operational and creative dimensions of the institution. He believes in art’s potential for individual and collective transformation. “Feeling and seeing how the work affects people’s lives” is what drives him.
Hubbard Hall was established in 1878 by Mary and Martin Hubbard as a performance venue and community town square. Hubbard Hall proudly features one of the country’s few remaining operational 19th century vaudeville theaters. The organization’s mission — to develop, sustain and promote the cultural life of its rural community — is evident in its eclectic year-round programming. Hubbard Hall is the largest arts institution in Washington County.
Multidisciplinary courses in the arts are available for folks of all ages and skill levels. High school drama club students are coached and nurtured on the historic stage. Artists in residence share work in progress with Cambridge residents. And it’s not just local talent: renowned professionals such as composer Rupert Holmes and dancer Twyla Tharpe have performed here, too. Hubbard’s LGBTQIA+ monthly potluck initiative, Breaking Bread, fosters regional relationship building.
After thirteen years of life in Washington D.C., Snider and his family relocated to Cambridge, captivated by the town’s close knit social fabric and natural beauty. For Snider, Hubbard Hall carries both great responsibility and opportunity. By enthusiastically supporting artists and artistry, he is an important leader of the creative economy of the county.
Coffee And, Owner and Operator: Ashley McCuin
Ashley McCuin’s artisanal bakery business, Coffee And, provides customers with homespun nourishment. Their specialities span from the nostagiac to the nouveau. Ashley’s Everything Bagel Scones include chunks of cream cheese and everything bagel topping. Kouign amanns — muffin shaped croissants topped with a satisfying sugar glaze — sit alongside stellar rye rolls. Coffee And is short form for “coffee and a treat while chatting with a friend.” It was a regular phrase of Ashley’s partner’s grandmother. Ashley hopes her baked goods will encourage patrons to take a moment of self care and relaxation amidst the daily grind.
Ashley was raised in Cambridge, and returned after a handful of years in Burlington, Vermont. Motivated by a love for and familiarity with the area, she shares, “I know there’s a future here in these small towns. I walk down Main Street and imagine all the possibilities.” Ashley is a strong advocate for small business and shopping local. Ashley has a weekly presence at the Cambridge Valley’s Farmers Market and uses other local distribution methods. Through this dedication, Coffee And continues to grow and build its network, a testament to the power of rural community support.
You can find Ashley’s Coffee And products on Fridays at the Cambridge Food Co-op in Cambridge and Iron Coffee in Hoosic Falls. Visit her on Sundays at her farm stand located at the Cambridge Valley Farmers Market in Cambridge.
Comfort Food Community, Executive Director: Devin Bulger
Devin Bulger founded Comfort Food Community in 2014 to address food scarcity amongst low-income individuals and families in Washington County. After several years in Colorado engaging in homelessness advocacy work, Devin returned to his hometown of Greenwich, where he recognized the unmet need. Comfort Food Community now provides low-income residents with high quality nourishment. The organization centers their efforts on local pantries in Greenwich and Cossayuna. And, they run a community garden space in the village of Greenwich.
Collaborating with Community
CFC’s food recovery brings staff and farms together to collect produce that would otherwise be composted or fed to animals. A network of food pantries and partners then distribute the produce to residents. Also, a partnership with Hudson Headwaters Health Network and CDPHP helped CFC introduce community health programs, including CFC’s Food Farmacy and Produce Prescription.
Greenwich’s slow pace and neighborly atmosphere provide fertile ground for Comfort Food Community’s impactful programs.
Esoteric Energy Design, Founder and Designer: Rachel Bauscher
Rachel Bauscher founded Esoteric Energy Design on a desire to blend natural beauty and wearable art. She lives in the tiny hamlet of Coila, a stone’s throw from the village of Cambridge. The location affords ample access to organic material for her work. Robin feathers from an afternoon walk find their way into jewel-toned leather earrings later that evening. A quartz-veined stone from the Battenkill River and vintage beads from a second hand store will find similar use.
Rachel also designs custom jewelry, likening the experience to pulling a tarot card specific to her client. Through her process, a piece emerges, and the wearer is supported in “feeling seen.”
Rachel returned to Washington County eight years ago with her family of five. She appreciates that her children have the opportunity to grow alongside the plant and animal life found right outside of their doorstep.
Written by: Rio Riera Arbogast
Rio Riera Arbogast is a queer, non-binary Cuban and Irish/Alsatian author currently based in the Capital Region. They are especially drawn to dynamics of beauty alive in nature, people and the creative.