The Food Cycle: A Farm, Distillery and Brewery Create a Food Conglomerate for Locavores

David Birnbaum, Noah Braunstein, Barry Labendz and Yoni Rabino founded the Food Cycle, which owns a farm, distillery and brewery that supplies Aita in Brooklyn.

You might need a flow chart to understand The Food Cycle — the new company has four partners who plan to farm, brew and distill under three brands in two states — but plurality is part of its point.

Launched two years ago by David Birnbaum, Noah Braunstein, Barry Labendz and Yoni Rabino — all youngish New Yorkers looking to leave desk jobs and do something more meaningful with their lives — The Food Cycle is meant to serve as a socially conscious conglomerate, like a Kraft Foods Group for locavores.

Today the quartet are putting the finishing touches on a distillery just north of the city called Neversink Spirits; finishing their second year of production at Camps Road Farm, a fruit-and-vegetable-growing outfit in Kent, Connecticut; and are building out the Kent Falls Brewing Company on the same property.

If those projects sound scattershot, it’s because the partners found each other by accident. Friends since high school, Braunstein, 30, and Rabino, 29, were both living in Brooklyn a few years ago, plugging away on a business plan to open a locally sourced distillery upstate. Birnbaum, 45, was a Manhattanite working in finance hoping to buy land and convert it to some sustainable use. He knew Labendz, 33, from playing frisbee golf. Birnbaum was eventually introduced to the pair through mutual friends at the Nature Conservancy, where Rabino used to work. “We had this great night,” says Rabino, “where we talked about our various passions and vision.” And at the end, Rabino says, we all thought, “Great, we’re all on the same page.”

The result wasn’t one business but three, which would allow them to pursue individual goals while supporting each other’s. For example, in addition to supplying a small CSA (subscribers occasionally pick up shares from Rabino’s Brooklyn apartment), the farm is now home to a newly planted orchard of heirloom apples, which will become Neversink’s hard cider and applejack, as well as a hop yard used (along with grains sourced from within 30 miles, says Rabino) for Kent Falls Brewing Company beers.

The brewery and distillery will then send spent grains back to the farm for composting or animal feed. Management follows a similar model: Birnbaum serves as president of the Food Cycle; Braunstein and Rabino run the distillery, just across state lines from the farm, and Labendz runs the brewery. All four get together to make decisions like the hiring of a full-time farm manager and a new brewmaster, or to spend a Saturday harvesting the first of their hops. “That’s kind of been our mantra,” admits Rabino: “Let’s all pitch in.”

Photo credit: Marlene Rounds

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Rachel Wharton is the former deputy editor of Edible Brooklyn and Edible Manhattan. She won a 2010 James Beard food journalism award, holds a master’s degree in Food Studies from New York University, and has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and reporter. A North Carolina native and a former features food reporter for the New York Daily News, she edited the Edible Brooklyn cookbook and was the co-author of both Handheld Pies and DiPalo's Guide to the Essential Foods of Italy. Her work also appears in publications such as The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and Saveur.