When architect Eugene Kwak first suggested to his wife, Claire Ko, that they buy land, build a house, and start a farm, she was not immediately sold. "I raised my eyebrow and said, ‘I’ve never even lived in a suburb. I’ve been a true city girl,’" says Claire, who grew up in Seoul, South Korea, and works as a chief people officer at a cheese company in New York City.
She adds, "I told him that I think our connection to the farm really begins and ends at the farmer’s market, and he said he disagreed. He believed very strongly that we can take that further."
The couple, who’d long lived in Greenwich Village, frequented the Union Square Greenmarket and procured fruits and veggies from a CSA. "We just fell in love with seasonal produce," says Claire. After that first conversation, Eugene, who then worked for a firm specializing in environmentally responsible design and is also an assistant professor at Farmingdale State College on Long Island, started volunteering once a week with the Stone Barns Center and Glynwood, two nonprofits supporting farming, agriculture, and education.
Eugene spent two years getting his hands dirty, learning about regenerative food systems and the New York farming community. "I was out in the field, helping out with weeding and moving rocks, to harvesting and planting," he says. "In the afternoon, I would wash my hands, have lunch, and attend these really informative workshops where they teach anything from composting, to land access, to how to farm as a beginner."
Refining and building upon Eugene’s initial idea, the couple finally alighted on the concept of "Togather": a two-family house on a 16-acre lot in the Hudson Valley, just a 70-minute drive from their digs in the city. One side of the house would host young farmers seeking land, and the other would be where Eugene and Claire resided, connecting with nature and providing support where needed.
The 3,000-square-foot home was completed in 2019. Eugene gave a push-pull aspect to the facade to control the views, wrapping the lighter wood with black-stained pine. "The black siding really binds the structure together, and having those different volumes within the boundary is really playful," says Eugene.
Inside, the footprint is divided into a 2,000-square-foot unit for Eugene, Claire, and guests, and a 1,000-square-foot unit for the farm family. Both units have generous deck space and plenty of sight lines to the working farm and bucolic scenery. "Our goal was to provide enough space for both families, and we really brainstormed a lot about sharing the outdoor space together," says Eugene.
They now rent out the second home below market rate, which includes a free 30-year land lease to enable farmers to begin their operations without the steep start-up costs associated with acquiring land. The goal was to create a mutually beneficial collaboration, says Claire: "We felt we could really help urbanites and young farmers coexist, and be able to partner and do something together."
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Once construction was nearing completion, Eugene and Claire posted a listing on the Hudson Valley Farmlink Network. "It's very similar to Match.com in the sense that they match farmers to land owners," says Eugene. Through it, they met Melissa Phillips and Jack Whettam, who have since moved into the second home and officially started the Hidden Acre Farm in 2019.
Hidden Acre Farm sells its produce at a local farmer’s market in Barryville, as well as one the Carroll Garden Market in Brooklyn, which creates something of a full-circle effect for Eugene and Claire, who see the produce they helped facilitate go to city dwellers like themselves.
"We often share meals together with what they grow on the field," says Eugene. "It's an incredible, incredible experience for us." Adds Claire, "The joy that this property offers to us is really beyond my expectation and beyond my imagination."
Architecture: Eugene Kwak
Builder: Thomas Lane Construction Ltd
Civil Engineer: Mercurio-Norton-Tarolli-Marshall (MNTM)
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