December 19, 2018

Stone Barns and future farmers

That picture is Jack Algiere, Farm Director at Stone Barns. This past Friday I was with a group that included Jasper (our General Manager at CloverHSQ) touring the farm. The first stop on Jack’s tour was the compost pile.

I met Jack for the first time back in September when I was at Stone Barns for a fundraising event. I think he’s awesome. And not just because he started with the compost pile on his tour. Jack and others (including Dan Barber) are using Stone Barns to try to define an alternative future for farming and eating. I think the big question they face is whether this future is limited to the few or whether their ideas can scale and impact others.

Since day 1 of Clover I’ve been hearing voices that don’t really believe our food system will change. Sometimes people say this directly to me. More often it is intimated.

It’s a view cherished by gatekeepers. It is the view of those with fortunes or responsible for investing the fortunes of others. It’s the view of landlords. These are often people who personally have changed their eating habits. The assumption is that the change that will happen in food will happen not broadly but for the affluent only. And I sense that there is an expectation that change will happen but it will be limited in scope and impact.

There is plenty to support that cynical point of view. We’ve known for years that eating more vegetables is the best thing any of us can do for our own health. And more recently we’re learning about the impact we can have on the environment if those vegetables are in place of meat. But Americans still eat 3.1 servings of meat per day. Every day I’m confronted by fast casual chains like Dig Inn claiming “mostly vegetables” while collecting 80% of their sales from bowls that include 4 ounces of meat (the FDA defines a single serving as 3 ounces by the way). That’s not what Michael Pollan meant by “mostly vegetables” when he wrote In Defense of Food. We have the information we need to make change. But we’re doing a lousy job as a nation actually making that change happen.

Despite these discouraging patterns I think the world is changing in fundamental ways. I don’t think it’s wise or moral to bet against a better future.

Back to the farm. Stone Barns is a foundation that was started by David and Peggy Rockafeller. It’s immaculate. I’m sure it takes a lot of money to run. The restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns is in my opinion and that of many others one of the best restaurants in the world right now.

The question for the folks at Stone Barns is whether the work they are doing can grow. Can Jack influence the kind of major change that would make this a healthier tastier country? I was there this past Thursday and Friday to serve on a panel that reviewed the final projects of a group of about 30 young farmers who had just finished a 1-week intensive. It was the first time they’d done this young farmer intensive.

Stone Barns and Clover have mutual admiration because we’re facing the similar questions, similar challenges. I think it’s worth fighting for a better food future. And I’m glad to have people like Jack to be working alongside.

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