Chefs Make Change: Dan Barber for Stone Barns Center
Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture aims to improve the way America eats and farms through programs at its magnificent 80-acre property in Pocantico Hills, NY. Its ideas reach everyone from ambitious young farmers who come for seminars to children who want to see where their food comes from. Stone Barns also participates in agricultural research that includes seed breeding; although Barber is one of the best chefs in the world, he believes that creating delicious and nutrient-dense food starts with plant DNA. stonebarnscenter.org.
Why Heirloom Seeds Aren’t the Answer “Everyone is crazy about heirlooms—tomatoes, of course, and also any other vegetable that’s old and weirdly shaped. But a lot of that is nostalgic, and it’s not the future of great eating. We know so much more about how to breed seeds for flavor. We just need to demand it.”
Saving Seeds “At Stone Barns, 75 percent of the tomatoes we grew last summer were unnamed varieties—a few heirlooms, but also hybrids from breeders who have had these seeds in a drawer for 20 years because they don’t have the funding to finish trials.”
What Farmers are Up Against “I was talking with a seed breeder— a brilliant young guy who looks like Harry Potter—and when I told him I was looking for a particular flavor in a squash, he stopped me: ‘No one has ever asked me to breed for flavor.’ Everyone has asked him to breed for yield.”
Training Farmers “Stone Barns hosts a young farmers’ conference every December with about 250 growers from around the world. There’s a need for education like this. It’s a place to convene like-minded people, where there’s a free flow of information and support.”
His Braised Carrots with Lamb Recipe For F&W “The head vegetable farmer at Stone Barns, Jack, brought me carrots that were so sweet and delicious I couldn’t stand it. Then Jack said, mournfully, ‘I bet they end up in a freakin’ sauce.’ Instead, I created a dish with the carrots as the star, and I used shredded lamb for the sauce.”