Celebrating 'the only Stephentown on Earth'

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STEPHENTOWN, N.Y. — On a hazy August afternoon, a wide-horned Highland cow nuzzles her shaggy calf in the welcoming shade. Dragonflies dance over ponds ringed by rare plants, near ripe peaches barely clinging to their branches. Farmer Thom Pecoraro surveys his burgeoning vegetable garden, part of 75 acres dedicated to sustainable living at Wyomanock Farm and Center.

This weekend, town residents and visitors to the inaugural "Celebrate Stephentown" community festival will walk his land, meet cattle and chickens, forage for edible plants and dress pizza with farm-grown garlic and fresh-picked vegetables.

At more than 20 locations all across town, local businesses, organizations and farms will present some 30 events and activities, from tag and book sales to a horse dressage show. The new festival honors "the only Stephentown on Earth," a signature claim commemorated by a brand new sign replacing ones that "disappeared" long ago.

Stephentown is a community of 2,000 people adjoining the Berkshires in the southeast corner of Rensselaer County, New York. Behind the largely commercial main thoroughfares of State Routes 22 and 43 lie leafy lanes lined with picturesque red barns, white churches and fields of farmer Eckhardt's corn, a local legend to be boiled and sold at the festival as Pirate Corn, costing a "buck-an-ear."

From the park to the library, proud citizens will showcase all their small town has to offer, from art shows to award-winning Four Fat Fowl cheeses to local musicians Mike McMann, the Rev. Tor and the Hill Hollow Band. There's even a charity Texas Hold 'Em poker tournament at the firehouse.

Long-established businesses like Zema's Nursery, Down in Denver used book sellers and the Berry Patch will share advice on late season plantings, give away bonus books with purchases, and provide tastings of juicy heirloom tomatoes and melons.

At Celebrate Stephentown, kids can make nature crafts, read to a therapy dog and win backpacks full of school supplies. Over at Pease Farm, artisans will demonstrate crafts such as spinning, weaving, knitting and basket making.

Community gatherings include a Bring Your Own Picnic and Town Hall opening reception on Friday with cake and a special "Celebrate Stephentown" coffee blend by Liquid Assets roasters and an ice cream social at Berkshire Mountain House B&B on Sunday.

"We didn't expect the positive response we got for a brand new thing like this," said festival organizer Scott Menhinick, board president of Stephentown Memorial Library which is celebrating its 70th anniversary. "There's all these things to do, I think it's going to surprise a lot of people."

They can travel from place to place, seeing what businesses have to offer, getting to know area services and visiting local landmarks. Natural resources feature prominently with walks, hikes and a 5K run along the Corkscrew Rail Trail.

In the past, each local organization held its own individual events, said Menhinick. "It's time to work together for the future of the town, to do things as a group and put together all our resources and ideas," he said.

The festival, he noted, is an event the town can call its own.

While some residents have lived in Stephentown for generations, others have relocated there from far afield.

"It's for people who want to be near things, but not in the middle of things, to have a nice quiet rural home but be able to drive to the Berkshires, Albany, Vermont or Hudson," Menhinick said. "Everybody we talked to has a very interesting story about how they got to Stephentown. It's one of those places that draws folks in."

Pecoraro would know. A former C.P.A. turned landscaper, the New York City native from Flushing, Queens, moved to Stephentown in 2003. He had always wanted to garden, he recalled, inspired by the meager few flowers sprouting in his childhood home. In 2010, he purchased five Highland cattle, a winter-tolerant breed well suited to reclaiming overgrown pasture. His herd now totals 19 head.

"They're tough and hardy and forage on a lot of different things," he noted, "and they're so interesting and beautiful."

Pecoraro sells the quality lean beef at his farm stand and area stores, along with organically grown eggs and vegetables. He also offers self-sufficiency and responsible living programs through Wyomanock Center, soon to occupy his newly-built round yurt, and provides farm stays for people from around the world, from Chile to the Czech Republic.

He is not alone in attracting visitors. Several times a year, independent music festivals sprout up in the fields behind Gardner's Ice Cream & Coffee Shoppe, drawing thousands of music lovers from across the country.

Menhinick hopes "Celebrate Stephentown" will also become an annual event.

"We'd love to keep doing it," he said. Being the only Stephentown on earth "is something we take pride in."


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