“Is it possible to think about gastronomy in ecological terms? That’s a challenge for Americans. We’re not the French or the Italians, or the Lebanese or the Taiwanese, for that matter, all of whose cuisines—and cultures—came out of a tradition of peasant farming. We don’t have a history of peasant farming. We have a history of bad farming. There’s this Jeffersonian notion of the yeoman farmer as the backbone of our country, and that we’re somehow a nation of yeoman farmers. It’s a bit of a farce. We never had a sustained tradition of great farming in this country. Never. So when older visitors come to Stone Barns and they meet the incredible vegetable farmer, Jack, they’ll invariably say, ‘Oh, you’re farming like my grandfather used to farm.’ No, we’re not. Their grandfather didn’t farm like this. Their grandfather probably exploited the great fertility that is American soil, dropped his plough, and then moved on to the Midwest and exploited it all over again. We have a nostalgic conception of good agriculture, a dangerous memory that shrouds the issue in confusion.
Stone Barns Center is not an attempt to re-create a Shaker village or a Norman Rockwell painting. It’s a relationship—farmers, chefs, educators—that is a replicable model for the future of good food. Where we want to look is to modern farmers using ecological intelligence, using free energy to produce food—grass converting the sun’s energy by photosynthesis into feed for an herbivore that we in turn eat.
That’s really brilliant farming, the most intelligent, space ship–type thinking. And it’s enormously productive, too. At the height of the last season, Stone Barns produced something like 28,000 pounds of food. That’s off of six and a half vegetable-production acres and 22 acres of pasture. That’s an average of a thousand pounds of food an acre—more than the typical Iowa cornfield, and about 50 times more flavorful.”
Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns
“I’m not an environmentalist, or a doctor, or a nutritionist. I’m not a community activist or an evangelist (though sometimes my wife says I sound like one). Chefs are none of these things, but we’re also all of them, too, whether we’re grandstanding or working silently behind a stove. Because truly great-tasting food—that impossibly sweet tomato, the deeply flavored leg of lamb—by definition has the right environment behind it. A delicious tomato does not originate from degraded soil. Nutrient density goes hand in hand with flavor.
And generally, the food with the most flavor comes from farmers who are local or regional, or integral to a community. You can’t treat farming like a car-manufacturing plant and expect that it will produce anything great to eat. That’s why chefs have become advocates for everything from water rights to farm-workers rights to farmers markets.
Chefs are powerful because we are curators of what’s truly delicious; we’re driven by pleasure. The sustainable food movement is about hedonism, A to Z: Be greedy. Be greedy for great food when you know that it was grown in the right way. That’s why a local, grass-fed burger shouldn’t be a guilty indulgence. It should be a part of your diet. What I don’t like about sustainable foodies—and I’m considered one of them—is that we carry an air of preachiness about food. (No one wants to be told what to eat, whether it’s by your mother or by a group of holier-than-thou chefs.) But true sustainability is about more than just deciding to cook with local ingredients or not allowing your child to have corn syrup. It’s about cuisine that’s evolved out of what the land is telling you it wants to grow. As one farmer said to me, Food systems don’t last; cuisine does.”
Dan Barber of Blue Hill at Stone Barns | WSJ
Chef Dan Barber: How I Fell in Love with a Fish
Dan Barber is the chef at New York’s Blue Hill restaurant, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Westchester, where he practices a kind of close-to-the-land cooking married to agriculture and stewardship of the earth. As described on Chez Pim: “Stone Barns is only 45 minutes from Manhattan, but it might as well be a whole different universe. A model of self-sufficiency and environmental responsibility, Stone Barns is a working farm, ranch, and a three-Michelin-star-worthy restaurant.” It’s a vision of a new kind of food chain.