Big food news broke yesterday: New York chef Dan Barber (Blue Hill NYC, Blue Hill at Stone Barns), a visionary and leader in the sustainable food movement, launched Row 7 Seed Company, a business that aims to support plant breeders developing new varieties of vegetables and grains that are bred for flavor and nutrition, not yield and uniformity. Row 7 will sell the seeds for these plants to home gardeners and farmers alike, but also collaborate with chefs across the country, using feedback from the chefs’ experiences growing and then cooking the products in their restaurant kitchens to guide Row 7’s breeder research. The hope is that using chefs as marketers—letting them tell the stories of the new vegetables and grains through their menus, social media, and conversations with guests—will increase demand and lead to more diversity in the consumer market. As told to the New York Times, Barber says, “Part of the goal of the company is not only to increase the flavor of vegetables: It’s to look at how we, as chefs, can change the culture of eating.”
In other words, Barber and his fellow Row 7 co-founders, seedsman Matthew Goldfarb and vegetable breeder Michael Mazourek, are trying to change the world.
Barber has tapped more than 50 chefs across the country to help Row 7 grow and test their new seeds, including a couple of Coloradans: Caroline Glover (Annette) and Kelly Whitaker (Basta and forthcoming the Wolf’s Tailor) are part of Row 7’s initial cohort. Both received emails and phone calls from Barber about two weeks ago, asking them to take part in the seed trials. Whitaker spent time at Stone Barns last year working with its millers and meeting Barber and his team, so Barber knew about Whitaker’s nonprofit initiative, the Noble Grain Alliance, and the work he’s doing to return heirloom grain varieties to Colorado. Barber had also read about Annette and the cooking Glover is doing in Aurora using local ingredients. Both chefs were thrilled to participate.
“Dan told me his vision for the seed company,” says Glover, “and how flavor and nutrition are the goals. It makes complete sense to me. You get vegetables at the supermarket these days and they don’t taste anything like what you think they should. I’m so excited to see the end product of these new seeds.”
Glover recently began working with DeLaney Community Farm in Aurora, which provides Project Worthmore refugees with education, training, and the opportunity to grow their own food in DeLaney’s community gardens. Glover has been using CSA (Community Supported Agriculture)-share produce from DeLaney for a few months now, and immediately called to see if they would allow her to plant Row 7 seeds on the farm. The team at DeLaney agreed; Glover plans to grow both there and in her own home garden.
Whitaker almost couldn’t believe what he was hearing as he had his first conversation with Barber. “We talked a lot about the seed trials I’m working on for wheat,” he says, “It was awesome. Barber told me that Row 7 is starting with vegetables, but eventually moving into grains, too, growing for flavor. I told him that I was all in!” Whitaker already has a plans for a community garden at the Wolf’s Tailor, and will now add Row 7 seeds to the mix. “Hearing from Dan and being a part of Row 7 fits in perfectly with the program we’re planning at Wolf’s,” says Whitaker. “I love how Dan is trying to lead with chefs. He’s letting chefs create the economy for the farmer.”
Row 7’s first batch of seeds is small, but mighty; all seven varieties are organic and produced in the United States. There’s a beet bred for sweetness, without any of the earthy flavor that beet-haters abhor; three kinds of winter squash; a chile with the flavor of a habanero but none of the spicy burn; a creamy baby potato; and a cucumber bred to taste like more than water. You can buy Row 7 seeds to plant in your home garden at row7seeds.com, or taste the innovation at Annette and the Wolf’s Tailor come summer and fall.