Home to Roost
At Galligan farm, an urban family opts out
In 2003, Kate and Paul Galligan imagined they were a happy couple living the urban-family dream, in Brooklyn, with their three offspring, Liam, Georgia, and May. Kate is a Jewish girl from Larchmont; Paul is a native of Ireland. But when a friend of Kate’s, a young mother who had recently moved to Katonah, was diagnosed with breast cancer, Kate was impressed with how the community rallied around her friend. “How everyone came together to support her made me feel Katonah was the place I wanted to live.”
The couple began searching for houses and became smitten with an unrenovated 1837 farmhouse on 2½ acres with a picturesque, old barn. “It was Dr. Shove’s house,” Kate says, referring to the Katonah homesteader and physician documented in the book Katonah: The History of a New York Village and Its People, by Frances Duncombe. Kate’s mother was less enthusiastic. “We fell in love with the place the way you fall in love with a person you know is all wrong for you, but you go ahead anyway,” Kate adds.
The Galligan property is unique, not just because it is 177 years old but because it is a situated on a busy street in a thoroughly developed residential neighborhood. And yet when you pull in the driveway, suburbia vanishes. The first thing you see is a large, very old barn, a rolling field, and the chickens and goats clucking and bleating in the yard. “We knew right away it was never going to be a manicured
property,” Kate says of the yard that is more paddock than lawn.
It wasn’t long before the woman who nearly finished her PhD in medieval literature at the CUNY Graduate Center was feeling the pull of an alternative lifestyle. First, she began homeschooling her second child. Next she adopted a young boy, Abenezer, from Ethiopia. She started raising chickens. “Everyone should have chickens. They’re hilarious, and when I see the kids making themselves fresh, organic eggs for breakfast, I feel like a good mom,” she says.
Soon, she began volunteering at Rainbeau Ridge Farm. When her husband didn’t actively object, two infant Alpine goats, Poppy and Veronica, both requiring bottle feeding, came home with her. Last year Veronica spent a romantic weekend at Rainbeau Ridge to be bred to Starbuck, a stud, but the pregnancy didn’t take. This spring Veronica and Kate’s new doe, Stella, are expected to give birth. “I am determined to milk a goat and make goat cheese and goat yogurt and goat’s milk soap,” Kate says.
In the cellar, under heat lamps, are a new crop of ducklings and chicks. The chicks are named for First Ladies and the ducks for female world leaders. “I have to separate them for now because the ducks throw their water around and it upsets the chicks,” Kate explains. “The ducklings do nothing but poop.”
Last year Kate became involved with the CSA, Field Goods, a local produce-delivery service. “You receive five to eight different types of fruits and vegetables, from small farms in the Hudson Valley, every week,” she says. Kate plans to grow micro-greens in a plot on her property this summer and become one of the service’s steady suppliers.
“My father grew up in Brighton Beach until his family did what many aspirational immigrants did at the time, which was buy a chicken farm in south Jersey,” Kate says. “He hated it and said the last thing he ever expected me to be was a farmer.” Nonetheless, Kate Galligan has embraced farm life and is now thinking about acquiring a pig, setting up a communal kitchen, and starting a bee colony. The family never has to hire a landscaper. The goats graze the yard, and the chickens fertilize it. And they don’t spray for ticks because tick eating is a chicken’s delight.
“It feels like we’re living in an earlier era,” Kate says. “I find the work to be extremely fulfilling. I’m a natural worrier, but the rhythm of this lifestyle feels very soothing.”