When Barber opened Blue Hill at Stone Barns in 2004, the menu was inspired by the farm where the restaurant was located, in Pocantico Hills, N.Y. The farm evolved into the Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture, becoming not only a source of produce, dairy products, grains and other homegrown ingredients but also a nonprofit educational resource for farmers, chefs and the public.
But Barber didn’t stop there. In the 15 years since, he has taken farm-to-table sourcing to the next level by becoming an agent of change for the agricultural system. He has won two James Beard Awards for professional achievements, but his influence has gone way beyond his restaurants to impact all aspects of sustainability, including land stewardship, environmentally healthy farming, food waste reduction and the politics and economics of agriculture. Below are some of the key industry people, concepts and issues Barber has championed.
Row 7 Seed Co.
Flavor starts with the seed, Barber believes, so he partnered with breeders to develop flavor-forward organic seeds. The first were trialed at Stone Barns, and Row 7 crops now include koginut squash, habanada peppers, purple snow peas and golden beets. All the crops are chosen to promote soil conservation and flavor. Through Row 7, Barber has brought together a group of growers and a chef community, including Thomas Keller, Daniel Humm, Grant Achatz, Hugh Acheson, Sean Brock and Wolfgang Puck. Chef and restaurant support means both economic and agricultural sustainability.
Spreading the sustainability message
Barber turned author with “The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food.” In the book, he questions how much of a change the farm-to-table movement has brought about. He advocates for more, envisioning an American cuisine that not only is local and plant-forward but also promotes the best agricultural practices and is sustainable and delicious.
Scaling at Sweetgreen
Fast casual Sweetgreen, a chain with 75 locations, partnered with Barber to provide customers with a “seed-to-Sweetgreen” experience. Co-founder Nic Jammet contracted with Row 7 for six farms to plant 100,000 koginut squash seeds last May. Jammet and his team brainstormed ideas with Barber to create a bowl that would highlight the squash, and in November, the Koginut Squash Bowl debuted on Sweetgreen’s menu as an LTO. Other seasonal menu items are planned for future crops.
Barber also partnered with Sweetgreen for its WastED Salad—an item that incorporates the chain’s discards, such as broccoli leaves, roasted cabbage cores, carrot ribbons, kale stems and roasted bread ends. This collaboration came out of Barber’s WastED initiative, a community that works together to reduce and repurpose food waste.