A rolling party descends on farm country


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Tell us about the first time you got on a bike.

I grew up in Philadelphia, in the city, and my whole world was the one block around my house. I got a bike, and I got to go three, four blocks away, see my friends in the other world outside my one block. Right from the beginning, riding a bike gave me that sense of freedom. And also right from the beginning I was kind of a risk taker on a bike. I have a great photo of myself when I was a kid standing up on the seat, doing daredevil tricks when I was five.

I was always athletic. I got into running and wrestling, that’s what I did in high school. I had some running injuries going into college and I bought a bike to stay in shape. I fell in love with riding and I never looked back. I went to school in New Jersey, Princeton, so I got started on the collegiate team there. I kind of knew right from the get-go that I was going to take a different path than my Princeton classmates, you know?

How’d you know?

Well my mom was a professional ballerina and an entrepreneur. From an early age, my parents were very encouraging of me to follow what I was passionate about even if there’s a risk in taking that path. My upbringing… I was upper middle class, going to private school, and all those kids, we all went to good colleges, and most of them went off to get jobs at investment banks and consulting firms and become lawyers and doctors. None of that held any allure to me. I graduated and got a job with a pro cycling team.

They didn’t pay me any salary the first year. I got paid in Olive Garden gift cards and bicycle components. So I lived on salad and bread sticks and prize money from the races. My classmates that got these high paying jobs? I thought they were fools. I thought I had it made.

You still think so?

Yeah. Pro cycling is not a lucrative athletic endeavor, not like pro basketball or pro football, but I got to the point where I could make a living. I got to travel the world, I got to learn different languages, I got to have a real physically fit lifestyle, I got to be outside. It was a great 13 years of my life.

What brought your pro career to an end?

I just started to realize I was looking for something else. Every day I’ve been thinking about how to make myself a faster bike rider, how to be more fit and how to be more lean. I wanted to have some new challenges. I didn’t have a concrete backup plan, so I started taking some classes at the business school at SUNY Albany.

I have the risk tolerance and the stomach for starting a business, and I have connections in the cycling industry and an understanding of marketing and branding from that side of my career, because we’re rolling billboards and ambassadors for the brands we represent. So I thought about what I could do to continue my career in cycling but in a different way, something that would be meaningful to me and that would be fun.

I thought, I want to start organizing events that will inspire people to get on their bicycles, that are not races, they’re not hardcore events, but something for the everyday athlete, something to get people onto the rusty bikes they have in their garage. Because I love the sport, and I thought it could be a great way to share that message and to inspire people to develop healthy habits.

I started Wrenegade Sports in 2014 and I organized my first event in my hometown, Rensselaerville in Albany County. We got 425 people there from 22 states and four countries into this tiny little town that needed the attention. It’s a historic town, a lot of the homes are falling down. It just needed an influx of people.

So I’ve been developing the message of Wrenegade Sports. I’ve got a mission statement that I printed out and put on my wall above where I work.

I want to promote physical fitness in a fun and supportive environment. I want to offer achievable challenges for people of all ages and all abilities. I want to leave my host communities better than I found them, including here in Orange County. And I want to use my events to do social good.

How did you decide on Orange County?

I’m looking for rural areas that need the attention. I don’t want to go to a big city. I want to go to an area where there’s a story to tell and a community where I can have a positive impact. And I really hope that with this event the positive impact will be encouraging people to support the local farmers, to go out of their way to do it, and then also putting Orange County on the map as a great place to ride a bike, and to bring people into the county and enjoy the rural riding here. It’s a great weekend destination for people from New York and New Jersey. It’s great riding.

You’ve been searching the Northeast for race locations. Have you found other kindred spots?

We’re doing another Farm to Fork Fondo in rural Vermont in July. Dairy farming has been the biggest thing going there, up to 80 percent of the revenue of the state. And now dairy prices have dropped and these dairy farmers are having to sell their land off. The Vermont postcard of the red barn and the cows is in jeapordy, but that’s also an area where there’s a lot of innovative young farmers coming in. That state is kind of leading the way in terms of organic farming, and trying to reinvent itself, but it’s a struggle up there too. If these two events go well, I envision this as a series I can continue in other areas. I’m already in talks down in Pennsylvania Dutch country, which is where I’m from, where a lot of the same things are happening.

Tell us about some of the Orange County farms the race will stop at.

Pierson Farm up in Otisville, that’s our first aid station stop. Jackie Pierson is the woman who runs that. It’s an eighth generation farm, she’s a seventh generation Pierson. There’s a placard on their front yard designating them as a historic spot.

What do they grow?

Beef cattle, mainly. They have two daughters and the daughters are not too interested in running the farm. They have this beautiful tract but taxes are going up, so it’s a squeeze. It would break her heart to let the farm go because it’s a part of the family lineage. She’s going to be one of the beneficiaries. [Some proceeds will go] to Pierson to help them diversify their farm stand, so it’s not just beef cattle.

Then you go further down the road to 5 Spoke Creamery, on the corner of Pulaski and Cross Road, a real prominent corner. This guy Alan [Glustoff], who bought the land, came in from out of the county. This tract was slated for development of 21 homes, and he came in and he saved the dairy farm. He’s running it and doing raw artisanal cheeses. He’s been written up in prominent magazines in New York City. The point is, he took all this risk to buy this land, not knowing what he was getting into, but he saved the beautiful landscape there from development. You look around Orange County and there are so many beautiful farms, but there’s

As cyclists, we love riding on beautiful country roads, but that beautiful country road is kind of an endangered species. We really need to support the landowners like these local farmers who preserve that open space by farming the land, and who by doing so also create the healthy foods that make us faster bike riders and better athletes.

Do you have a background in farming?

No, I just spent all these years riding throughout the world, appreciating the areas that are nice to ride through and the areas that aren’t. We do races in cities and suburban areas that are busy and congested. When you go through the suburban areas you just go past strip malls and busy roads. Then you go to places like Orange County and just take a deep breath and enjoy the ride.

You’re calling this race a “farm to fork fondo”? We know about fondu... what’s fondo?

A gran fondo is a ride style that started in Italy that mixes together everyone from new riders, to everyday athlete enthusiasts, to professional cyclists. It’s quickly gaining popularity in the US. American gran fondos are innovative parties on wheels, and I’m really excited to be a part of the evolution of this exciting ride format. I think gran fondos offer a lot more than traditional races or charity rides. Typically gran fondos have some level of competition (we’ll have timed segments for people who want to test themselves), but the focus is on personal challenge for riders of all abilities and the traditional ceremonial mass start, the fun aid stations and the supportive volunteers tend to be the highlights.

Do you expect this fondo to be an annual thing?

I hope it to be. I do. We’ll see how it goes, but I’d like to come back to Orange County every year because I think this message is always going to be important here. The pressures are not going to change any time soon, you know? And I also don’t think the farms are going to disappear any time soon.

On to the important things: What’s on the menu?

Each aid station will have a little hors d’oeuvres sourced from the farm, and it’s going to be a Fine Cooking magazine recipe.

Like?

It’s not finalized yet, but little apple turnover at Soons [Orchard]. We’ll have a little bruschetta at Keith’s Farm, he’s got the world famous garlic. We’re going to have the ice cream at Bellvale [Farms], with little biscotti.

This might be the only tour where you could actually consume more calories than you burn.

Well it’s a tough ride if you get all the way to the ice cream store because you have to go all the way up Kane Road, so you’ll earn it.

What’s your favorite from-the-farm dish?

I think in Orange County it’s a toss-up between the Bellvale Farms ice cream and Black Dirt Bombs that Cheryl Rogowski has. It’s a little pastry she makes with fresh vegetables from her farm.

It doesn’t look like you eat a lot of that stuff.

That’s the great thing about cycling is you can work up an appetite and eat a lot of food.

Sign up at farmforkfondo.com.




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