As you head west toward the mountain from New Paltz on Route 299, just before you get to the Jenkins and Lueken Orchards farmstand, you’ve probably noticed a rustic wooden sign on the right and wondered what the Tweefontein Herb Farm is all about. Run as a collective and open to the public only one day a week — Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. — Tweefontein keeps a fairly low profile locally. But New York City folks who flock to the Union Square Greenmarket know where to head for a hot or cold cup of ginger/cayenne/maple or lavender/applemint/tulsi tea, and Mohonk Mountain House, Benmarl Winery and New Paltz’s Health and Nutrition Center are among Tweefontein’s wholesale clients. You might also have seen its tables at the Clearwater festival, Rosendale’s Pickle Festival or Frozendale.
“We were one of the first vendors starting the Union Square Greenmarket,” says A. C. Stauble, who has been Tweefontein’s general manager since 2012. “We’re there on Wednesdays and Saturdays from April through December. It’s our main bread and butter.” Besides the tea table, Tweefontein’s presence in Union Square includes two additional tables vending herbal tinctures and salves, a variety of pestos, garlic/herb butter and a pungent infusion called Fire Cider that serves as a cold remedy, immune tonic, salad dressing and hot sauce.
The nine-acre herb farm, three-and-a-half acres of which are cultivated at present, was once part of the Jenkins farm, but is now owned by Yan Salomon and leased to the Tweefontein collective. “It was originally a dairy farm delivering milk and butter to Mohonk,” Stauble recounts. Built in the late 1700s, the house on the property first appears on the 1812 census report. “Later it became a boardinghouse for aqueduct workers.”
Salomon’s mother, the late Ann Salomon, an immigrant from South Africa, acquired the place in the 1980s, started growing herbs and named it with the Afrikaans word for “two fountains” after the two springs on the property. “She was an inspirational woman,” says Stauble, “an activist who had her own newspaper in New Paltz. We try to maintain her legacy of providing the community with healing herbal products. Ann was known for her amazing rose varieties that still grow here, along with English ivy and peppermint. We still have some of her garlic.” In fact, the “Tweeples,” as the members of the Tweefontein collective call themselves, harvested 6,000 heads of garlic last year, according to Stauble.
Salomon died in 2001 and the site reverted to use as a boardinghouse for a while, during which time the fields became overgrown. “Since 2009, when we started running as a collective, we’ve reclaimed a lot of the land,” Stauble says. “It grew every year. By 2012 we covered our rent for the entire year, and 2013 was the first year that we had a surplus.”
Structurally, Tweefontein has a core group of seven members, each of whom has a specific area of responsibility keyed to his or her experience and skill set. “We have a point person for every product. We have a product manager, a field manager who oversees the growing operation, an herb manager who’s responsible for production and drying of herbs, a bulk food coordinator.” The latter makes sure that everyone at Tweefontein gets fed, since they don’t grow all that much of their own groceries; but they do take turns cooking for the group. “We eat really great here. Every meal is crafted.”
Not surprisingly for a collective living/working/profit-sharing situation, there is a certain amount of staff turnover. “Living in community is both the most challenging part of our job, and the most rewarding,” says Stauble of her “chosen family.” They range in age from 22 to 33, and tend to stay for up to three years, cycling out as they start their own families and begin craving more secure and permanent places to live. “A core part of our mission is serving as an incubator for young people,” Stauble explains. “Our structure tends to be a place where young people come to learn and grow and hone their skills. Everyone has been springboarded to do amazing projects elsewhere.”
Besides the Tweeples who live on-site full-time, the work at Tweefontein is accomplished partly through the efforts of community volunteers and “WOOFers”: interns recruited through a farm networking website called Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms, who camp on the land and work together to learn sustainable farming skills. “Every single day is an educational opportunity,” says Stauble.
The larger community is invited to sign up for sporadic workshops offered both by Tweefontein members and by local folks with specific skills to share. Past workshops have covered such topics as making tinctures and salves, identifying edible mushrooms, the history of herbal medicine, garden tool repair, breadmaking, natural dyes, fermenting miso and brewing sake, bird identification and more.
But probably the best way to dip a toe into what Tweefontein has to offer is to tour the farm during its Saturday open hours, inhale the heady scents and pinch off a leaf of something that you’ve never tried, like the delicious herb called anise hyssop. Perennial Hill is abloom right now with sage, lavender, thyme, oregano, mullein, fennel, applemint, peppermint and chives. The Goddess Garden features herbs for women’s healing, like motherwort, lady’s mantle and echinacea. Stroll through the arbor covered with wisteria and trumpet vine and enjoy being surprised by odd bits of garden sculpture as you come around a corner.
Check out the gleaming farm kitchen, separate from the main house, which is Board of Health-certified for the preparation of herbal products for sale. Most of the farm’s other structures are more rustic and low-tech, made from repurposed materials and designed for energy efficiency. The greenhouse is heated by a woodstove, which must be tended through the night in cold weather: “We take turns sleeping in the greenhouse and stoking the fire,” notes Stauble. An old garage has become a toolshed, and a coil on the solar-powered herb dehydrator provides warm water for the outdoor shower for the campers. There’s a beehive — for pollination, not for honey — and a superhot compost pile that produces finished compost in as little as 18 days. It’s all about permaculture, Stauble says.
Of course, you can always make a brief Saturday pit stop just to purchase some of Tweefontein’s Certified Naturally Grown products. Its healing body care line alone includes soaps, salves, lotions, lip balm, muscle rub, infused oils and aromatherapeutic room and body sprays. You can buy dried herbs, including special culinary blends, herbal tea mixtures and at least six different flavors of pesto.
For more information about Tweefontein products, ingredients and prices, upcoming classes and events, call (845) 522-3907, or visit the website at www.tweeherbs.com.