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Rural Urbanity


Last Updated: 08/13/2013 4:09 pm

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Since the beginning, TSL has continuously shifted in tone with the vibrations of the city. “As Hudson changes, as the region changes, you have to keep up,” Mussman says, sitting behind her long desk cluttered with papers and objects like printing blocks, a meat grinder, and a box of small bullets, none of which seem particularly out of place or like they couldn’t be made useful at any moment in her daily office life. “That’s why there’s the slipperiness of ‘What is TSL?,’” says Mussmann.

While now she now can’t imagine TSL without them, Mussmann said when they started, she never expected the kids, coming in from the poverty-stricken and truck-route-rattled Columbia Street neighborhood. TSL now holds a youth summer arts camp and runs programs for children throughout the school year. Mussmann and Bruce are running a “Macbeth” theater workshop this summer, with performances of the classic slated for August. “Children came in and were eager to do things, and frankly they were hungry. I saw all of what happens to at-risk kids here. TSL’s youth programs changed who we are as an arts organization,” Mussman says.

Investing in the Future
Born and raised in Hudson, Mayor Scalera said the city has come a long way from its last vibrant period in the ‘50s and ‘60s, when the city was dominated by mom-and-pop shops and over 40 bars. “Hudson has a new energy now,” Scalera says. “It’s different but I don’t know if I’d want to go back. Every community goes through an evolution. Hudson is fortunate to have had so many people find it and want to invest in its future.”

For many trying to run a business in Hudson or the body of the county during the recession, the new successful business model boils down to a few key tactics: Offer something distinctive, put an emphasis on all things local, and work seven days a week.

In Valatie, near the county’s northern border, at the Harvest Spirits distillery those principals apply to both a family tradition and the beginning of a growing legacy.

Behind a tall hedgerow in a section of the apple storage barn at the Golden Harvest Farm, Derek Grout is using apples and other fruit grown on the farm his grandparents started in the 1940s to create award-winning spirits.

“A lot of people get into distilling because they want to be nightlife impresarios. We come to distilling from an agricultural point of view,” says Grout, standing beside a tall rack of aging barrels, his hands and forearms cut and scraped from a morning of picking black raspberries for brandy.

Grout said the impetus to start the distillery came about in an effort to solve a consistent problem on the farm: what to do with the tons of surplus apples the farm can’t sell? Grout says it was finally Tom Crowell at the Columbia Land Conservancy, which suggested making liquor from the extra fruit.

After a few years of research and setup, Core Vodka, distilled from vats of fermented apples, began to flow into eager glasses in 2007. Core has already won numerous awards, from New York to the most important spirits competition in America, the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, where it brought a silver medal back to Valatie.

While Harvest continues to grow its original product line, Core vodka and apple and pear brandies, it’s the the company’s new projects that have Grout and his small team excited, especially the bourbonlike Cornelius Applejack, which won a double gold medal in San Francisco despite being aged only for a year instead of the desired three to five years.

Grout says that while running the distillery with the help of his wife Ashley Hartka and two part-time employees has been a lot of work, doing everything themselves gives the distillery a sense of credibility and a connection to the agricultural character of the county. “I feel a little magic in Columbia County,” Grout says. “I’m using apples that were only going to get worse. We’re freeing apples from the burden of time.”

Harvest Spirits is becoming a successful example of a persistent motivation in Columbia County to take the resources provided by a strong, established agricultural history and heighten it with contemporary ideas. On a larger scale, in the quiet village of Philmont, a grassroots nonprofit is working to use the same energy to revitalize a community.

Local Love
Philmont Beautification, Inc., was formed in 2000 by a group of citizens who wanted to see the village they love thrive instead of languish. The organization connects local businesses with grants, creates low-income housing opportunities, promotes local art, runs youth programs, and hosts the Philmont Farmers Market on summer Sundays. While it behaves like any small farmers market on the surface, behind the stands of fresh local produce, dairy, and breads PBI is doing more by helping farmers sell directly to restaurants and make their crops more profitable.

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