Ravenwood Celebrates Creativity and the Fruitful Bounty of Upstate NY
Chris Lanier and Dana McClure kicked off their Upstate NY journey twelve years ago with their purchase of a four-acre pasture in Olivebridge. These two uber-talented Brooklynites headed to the country to start a new way of life, looking for a way to integrate their respective talents (his background is food and agriculture; she is a creative powerhouse). They rolled up their sleeves, started growing their own food and began to brainstorm their next move.
The result was predictable. Their 19th-century Ravenwood Barn emerged as an elegant, rustic communal gathering space with a small café, a robust selection of seasonal produce, and a beautifully curated showcase of handcrafted works by Hudson Valley artists and modern makers. Today, locals and urban dwellers flock to Ravenwood to taste, discover and experience a true Upstate NY creative haven – a welcoming place to gather, mingle and share the exceptional bounty of Upstate NY.
We caught up with Dana and Chris to talk about Ravenwood, their ongoing collaboration, and what they love most about living and working in the Hudson Valley.
Inside+Out: Tell us about yourself: Where were you born and how did you wind up in the Hudson Valley?
Dana McClure: Chris Lanier is originally from Texas and I’m from New Jersey. We met in Brooklyn 20 years ago, where we lived for 13 years before cutting the cord to live upstate full-time. What drew us to the Hudson Valley was Chris’s desire to grow food and my desire to have a studio practice in close proximity to nature.
Where did you get the inspiration for Ravenwood and what was your journey?
In 2010, after many years of visiting this region, we bought a home in Olivebridge at the end of a long windy road called Ravenwood. Immediately, despite rocky soil and many odds against us, we jumped right into growing food, raising chickens and heritage turkeys, and tapping maple trees. Now two kids later, I have no idea where that initial energy came from but we were naive and excited to have a place of our own to nurture and reap the benefits of.
Chris’s background is in food and agriculture, having worked in restaurants, on farms, as a private chef and as a food stylist. My background is in art and design, having worked in ad agencies, as a design professor and as a mixed-media artist. Our space upstate quickly became a collaboration between the two of us and a way of integrating our two worlds. The first iteration of Ravenwood was a series of dinners hosted in our Williamsburg loft space with close friends, sous chefs and sommeliers. It was an opportunity to share our upstate world and seasonal harvests with people we loved and worked with in NYC. In hindsight, it was probably also a plea to get all of those guests to consider moving upstate as well (many of which eventually did).
Chris, how easy was it to transition into your current role as an Upstate NY farmer, grower and chef? What do you miss about your previous life, and what do you cherish about your new one?
Chris: The transition has been humbling, to say the least. We have had our fair share of failures, but each year I learn more, make changes and add new equipment to streamline things. What has changed my life the most is that we now have two young children. We wanted to raise our kids in a rural setting where they could run free and be surrounded by nature. My city life involved going all over in cabs, schlepping food to photoshoots, catering gigs in private homes, etc. At times it was exciting, but I don’t miss all the stress. The thing I miss most about the city is the restaurants and the access to great food all the time. What I cherish about my new life is how much time I get to spend outside. We are 10 minutes from a hike at Minnewaska or the Ashokan Reservoir. I also really appreciate all the amazing friends we have made since moving up here, who just like us were ready for a change from city life.
Dana, how has your life changed since leaving the city as relates to your creative energy, interests and your future goals?
Dana: Leaving the city in 2015 coincided with the initial stages of motherhood for me. So, needless to say, many changes were happening all at once and I was getting a BIG lesson in surrendering during that time. I deeply missed my community of friends in Brooklyn that were makers of all kinds–painters, photographers, ceramicists, floral designers, filmmakers, and jewelry designers. I craved what I had left behind – a constant flow of inspiration and artistic engagement. I started to realize that what happens so organically in a condensed urban environment, would need to be more intentionally created where we newly resided upstate. My interests moved away from teaching and client work and started to center around building a space that would foster creative exchange. In turn, this community we’ve gathered and grown over the years has directly influenced my studio practice and trajectory as an artist as I showcase and help to grow the careers of other artists I deeply admire.
What do you think is the draw of Ravenwood and what do you do to keep things fresh?
We consider Ravenwood to be more of a collaborative project than a traditional business. Each year shifts and changes based on our own interests at the time. What we present in our space is a direct reflection of what we most want to celebrate in our region – from the makers in our art + design showcase and the growers on our farm stand, to the menu items that Chris prepares for our guests. It is all a celebration of time and place, and we aim to create a space that is inclusive, inviting and inspiring.
What is one question you’re constantly asked or what’s the biggest misconception about your business?
Because our space is a renovated 1850s barn, many people assume we are an event rental. Although we have hosted farm dinners in the past and have done a few small private parties, this is not the focus of Ravenwood because we are used to being involved in all aspects of an experience from the design of the space to the food.
The hospitality industry has seen much change over the past few years. How are you adapting and is there a silver lining to be had here?
If you’re referring to Covid and the toll it’s taken primarily on the restaurant industry, we luckily haven’t been hit too hard by the challenges. In 2020, we closed for the season but since seeds were already in the ground and we had over 100 varieties of flowers we were growing, we offered our guests back-porch pickups for bouquets and produce bundles. Despite not having open hours in our shop during that time, our community showed up in full support and got us through that difficult year. I’m not sure there was a silver lining for us per se but there were definitely benefits to learning how to shift our business model and troubleshoot on the fly. That, and being a hybrid business that doesn’t rely too heavily on one category of revenue like prepared food sales.
How do you inspire your staff and what is your company culture?
We are a small family business with a very small staff. The barn feels like our living room and our small growing operation is part of our home so our staff gets up close and personal with the inner workings of our live/work life. This year we have doubled the number of people on our team to prepare for the season ahead which we expect to be a busy one. Our staff is as passionate as we are about our region and the growers, producers and artists that make it so special. The culture of our business extends into our space which prioritizes inclusivity, hospitality and creativity.
What do you love most about living + working in the Hudson Valley?
We love the heightened seasonality of the Hudson Valley and the beauty and bounty each month brings. We love the slower pace and proximity to nature that offers a better quality of life.
What impact does your business have on your community?
We think about this a lot with the influx of new homes and businesses in our area. At the start of Ravenwood, our farm dinners had limited seating and were set at a high price point to accommodate the menus we were creating. The switch to a farm shop model was aimed at being more inclusive and open to the community at large. Our guests now seem to be half local residents and half visitors new to the region. Every item we sell on the farm stand, from fresh produce to bread and flowers, is sourced from our favorite producers within an hour of the barn (if not from our own small growing operation). Our cafe menu is also a reflection of the local offerings and seasonality of the Hudson Valley. Ninety percent of the art + design showcase is from NY-based makers as well. In these ways, we aim for our business to celebrate and support our local community and make all feel welcome in our space.
What local businesses do you rely on to be successful?
Oh, there are too many to list! The success of our business relies on the collective spirit of SO many people whose work we admire and respect. Our Kerhonkson neighbors Erin + Sam at Long Season Farm have been a huge contribution to our farm stand and dinners since day one. Also, local flower growers like Marybeth Wehrung of Stars of the Meadow have helped supplement our own floral harvests. Fiber Artist Kat Howard has adorned our walls with her gorgeous creations from the beginning and NY-based ceramicists Re Jin Lee, Lindsey Schneider of LBP Clay and Doris Josovitz of Lost Quarry are also annual staples in the space. Local knitwear designer Catherine Carnevale of Eleven Six showcases her seasonal collections that keep guests coming back year after year to see her latest designs. Local cookbook writers like Sarah Copeland and Julia Turshen are on our shelves bringing more attention to the talent in our area. The list goes on and on and adding more spotlights each year is what fuels me most about Ravenwood.
What is missing in town that you wish we had?
There can never be enough selections of good food in town so please keep them coming!
Finish this sentence: I knew I made it when….
I don’t think either of us would ever say we’ve “made it”. Each year is a challenge and a lesson for the next.
What is your favorite thing to cook when you’re home alone or with your family?
We cook a lot of Mexican food during the winter months (when Chris is most homesick for Texas) and all summer long we’re out grilling everything we grow.
Tell us something about yourself people might be surprised to learn?
I spent a good portion of my early career integrating art with advocacy work – particularly around the refugee crisis and transgender youth.
Name three things you always have in your fridge.
Topo Chico, pickled jalapenos, homemade green juice
What would be your dream Hudson Valley Staycation?
Every summer, since it’s hard to get far away because of our farm/shop hours, we take the kids on two staycations – one to Scribner’s and one to Tourists in MA. It’s nice to be on the other side of hospitality for a bit.
What was the best dish or meal you’ve ever had and who made it?
Sitting at the counter eating tapas at Cal Pep in Barcelona 15ish years ago. Chris was working at WD~50 at the time with Wylie Dufresne who gave us a list of places to eat that did not disappoint. That night stands out as one for the books.
What is your current state of mind?
Half excited / half anxious about our 2022 season ahead in the barn. With Covid somewhat behind us, I think our community is eager to get back out and commune with one another and we want our space to be as welcoming and as magic as the connections that happen within it.
Photos supplied by Ravenwood | Portrait of Chris and Dana by Eva Kolenko
Proprietors: Chris Lanier and Dana McClure
Address: 579 Samsonville Rd, Kerhonkson, NY