Stone Barns Center: The R&D lab for an ecological food culture.
Catalyzing an ecological food culture in order to change the Hudson Valley food system.
Lead Applicant Organization Name
Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture
Lead Applicant Organization Type
Small NGO (under 50 employees)
If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Website of Legally Registered Entity
How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?
Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?
Pocantico Hills, New York
Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?
United States of America
Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?
The Hudson Valley, a heritage region in New York State, is comprised of the counties bordering the Hudson River north of New York City.
What country is your selected Place located in?
United States of America
Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.
We derive our direction and inspiration from the land on which we work. We are privileged to be situated just north of New York City at the opening of the greater Hudson Valley. This location grants us the potential for significant impact because we are at the nexus of the nation’s largest metropolitan area (~21 million people) and the rich agricultural heritage and shared watershed of the Hudson Valley. Everything we learn, teach, and shape comes from that focal point and grows outward, making this Place absolutely integral to our vision for a nourishing and regenerative food system.
Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.
The regular interaction between farmers and chefs on the land drives innovation.
We are inspired by the land on which we work and we strive to share that inspiration with others.
A look at the New York counties which makes up the Hudson Valley
The Hudson Valley region is located in the Northeastern United States, between New York City and Albany. It is a temperate, seasonal, hilly and mountainous area, which is cut through by the Hudson River. Residents and visitors relate to the environment through the River. Estuaries stretch like blood vessels throughout the entire region, fed by meltwater from the surrounding mountains. Major national parks surround the Hudson Valley region, which has resulted in a strong relationship to history, conservation, preservation, and connection with nature. The area was utilized for hunting, fishing and settled agriculture by the indigenous communities that inhabited it long before European colonization, and during the early centuries of European settlement it became an intensively cultivated landscape. Cultural traditions are longstanding and stretch back to pre-colonization through the active Lenape, Mahican, Wappinger and other communities and today represent a rich diversity of languages, ethnicities, interests, and histories because of the region’s industrial past, which attracted many immigrant communities.
There is a robust history of diversified agriculture here, and the area’s farms are predominantly small- and medium-scale. The foodshed is cultural, geographical and political, and most towns have a strong connection to the environment and food (e.g., Beacon, Hudson, and other river towns experiencing a “renaissance” driven by art and restaurant culture). Agricultural production in this Place focuses on Fruit, Vegetables, Dairy, Poultry, Meat and Maple Syrup. There is also a strong history of grain production in the area which is now being revitalized. Our region continues to be a source of food and of culinary inspiration due in large part to its proximity to New York City.
Stone Barns Center is positioned at the entrance to the Hudson Valley, in between the metropolis of New York City and the agricultural hub of the valley. As a place-based organization, we have deep connections with the land and the community. We see young farmers who struggle with inadequate access to land, infrastructure to distribute product, and training in regenerative practices. We see students in our local communities who, despite living in close proximity to so much farming, are disconnected from the sources of their food and the power structures that determine its distribution and price. The chefs, young farmers and other food system practitioners who come here for training and inspiration inevitably ask the question: how do we get this to scale? How can this food be more accessible to a larger population? How can I ask my customers to pay what it really costs me to grow this food, when I can’t even afford it myself?
What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)
What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?
Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.
Current challenges include:
DIET: Our neighbors are suffering due to diet-related illnesses because the costs of nutritious foods render them inaccessible to too many. These illnesses are the leading cause of death in New York State, and associated costs for health care are a burden across the board. More than 1 in 10 of our neighbors across our region is food insecure.
CULTURE: The Hudson Valley, which includes New York City, is one of the most diverse foodscapes on the planet, yet that diversity is often missing from the “local food movement,” including among farm owners, farmers market patrons, head chefs, and food media. Many of the celebrated agricultural and culinary practices of the local “farm to table” movement originate in indigenous, African, and immigrant traditions, but those communities are often not credited or compensated adequately for their contributions.
Our organization has contributed to this challenge by not doing enough to conduct our work in solidarity with communities of color, and we know that to move the needle on food system change we must develop and implement a vision that is fundamentally inclusive.
POLICY: Farmland in our region is among the most expensive in the U.S., and we’re losing area farmland rapidly. Promising policy opportunities to help farmers access land and to farm regeneratively are not yet widespread enough. Likewise, food safety requirements are mapped to the needs of industrial agriculture; quality and flavor are sacrificed to address the foodborne illness risks embedded in large scale farming and processing.
ENVIRONMENT: Because we are not maximizing the amount of local food consumed in the Hudson Valley, our foodshed is reliant on a fossil fuel economy in which food that could be grown and consumed locally is shipped from across the country and around the world.
ECONOMICS: There is nearly $900 million in unmet demand for locally grown food in NYC, but the lack of a coherent food culture results in insufficient infrastructure to facilitate the supply. “Farm-to-table” farmers, chefs and eaters function despite the obstacles of the industrial food system and must work harder under less efficient circumstances to succeed, resulting in higher prices and less accessible food.
TECHNOLOGY: The deep rift in our society between urban centers and farming communities prevents even the brilliant technological innovators of NYC from using their skills to center the needs of soil-based famers. Where technology and investment are brought to bear for agriculture, they tend to perpetuate the reductive system that is already in place.
Without intervention, these problems will be exacerbated by 2050 under a changed climate. A self-reliant food and economy is an essential component of mitigating climate change’s most violent effects on society, but without a deliberate commitment to establishing a coherent regional food culture we will not mobilize to feed ourselves.
Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.
What we are missing as a region eager to address these challenges is an ecological food culture, a pattern of eating that both reflects and is a catalyst for organic farming. Stone Barns Center is uniquely positioned to bring about such a food culture through our vision for 2050.
Why is a new food culture the right approach? In the same way that human-centered design thinking has shown the power of “desirability” as a key entry point to change other systems, “flavor” is a key entry point to change the food system. We know that if we want this change to stick, it first has to be experienced as a feast for the palate, the eyes, and all of the senses to provide a way into systems change. We invite our community to engage with the potential of food as a lever for addressing the health of our region, our soil, and ourselves by embodying that future through taste. Then, and arguably only then, can we affect the regional food system, providing the economic lift required to spur more regenerative farming while feeding millions of people more healthfully with regionally and seasonally relevant foods.
Our vision tackles the challenges in our regional food system by using food culture change to reshape the food economy: from a linear, transactional system into a networked, circular one, which benefits practitioners, consumers, communities and the earth. We will build on our longstanding work at the intersection of farmers and chefs to activate what we have found to be critical opportunity areas where more experimentation and learning could yield exponential impact in ecological and human health, farm viability, and other elements of thriving food systems. Through our ongoing partnership with the renowned restaurant Blue Hill at Stone Barns, our on-campus partner, we are working to uncover that which makes food most delicious in service of healthy soils and ecosystems. We know it begins with the growing and stewardship practices of the farmers who produce our food, but we also understand that it must be unlocked through culinary creativity that can shape a pattern of eating that supports those growing practices.
Through our vision we will pilot and innovate upon an intact, holistic food system, informed by longstanding traditions joined with new technologies through the diverse experts we engage in the design of our labs and curricula. We will use our resources to broadcast our insights with the wider world of food and agriculture so that together we can make change at scale possible.
High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.
By 2050, our campus will serve as a driving force for our regional community changemakers to see, learn from and taste the possibilities of an ecological food culture. We will conduct groundbreaking research within our lab spaces while modeling the intact workings of an interconnected food system and openly sharing our progress and learning through data and storytelling.
Education of farmers, chefs, and all the changemakers in between is central to our vision. As we look toward 2050, the young farmers we work with now will be well into their careers, and able to reflect on the changes they’ve seen in the region over the past 30 years. Instead of simply fulfilling orders from restaurants, they now celebrate deep relationships with chefs who design menus around the most important drivers of ecological agriculture: diversified grains and vegetables, cover crops, climate-adaptive perennials, regeneratively grazed animals. Thanks to our proximity to New York City’s technological and cultural resources, we have further influenced trends by raising awareness among leading chefs of the impact of supporting farmers so that this pattern of eating will become the norm in the city and the valley.
The New York State legislature will finally reflect the priorities of regenerative farmers. Through policy and leadership training from Stone Barns, farmers have become advocates for ecological stewardship and are taking advantage of the economic incentives offered to them for sequestering carbon, improving animal welfare, and minimizing runoff into the Hudson River. As regenerative farming becomes a more viable economic prospect, more small and medium size farms take root and costs begin to fall for consumers. Hudson Valley families will be able to afford a more nutritious local diet, improving health and building a stronger connection between the community and their environment.
Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?
We will pilot and innovate upon an intact, holistic food system from which others can learn, influencing other regional food communities through the work taking place here. We will use our resources to communicate our insights with the wider world of food and agriculture so that together we can make change at scale possible.
We envision a more interconnected future, transforming the food economy from a linear, transactional system into a networked, circular one, which benefits practitioners, consumers, and the earth.
Our campus will be a hub for innovation and experimentation which can then be taught and shared beyond Stone Barns Center, sparking the large-scale cultural shifts we need to make change.
What happens when a food culture is built around the needs of farmers and ecosystems, rather than the other way around?
Think back to 2005, when for many Americans kale was an unknown quantity. That year, our farm director Jack Algiere, having grown the critical brassica in our fields for its overwintering capability and its value in our rotation, made a pitch to Chef Dan Barber at Blue Hill that he should buy all of the kale. With a lot of kale to tackle, the Blue Hill chefs got creative—and made kale a staple at the restaurant ever since.
In 2012, Whole Foods sold nine million bunches of kale—double the sales from the year before. And in 2013, Time Magazine credited the work at Stone Barns for ushering in “The Great Kale Leap Forward” and bringing awareness of kale’s deliciousness to a broader public. That awareness increased support for farmers who had long known that including kale in crop rotations improves soil and ecosystems health. And in 2017, McDonalds added a kale salad to its menu.
That spark could never have happened without a deep relationship between Jack and Dan—between farmers and chefs—that is possible at the Stone Barns campus. Farmers are our society’s interpreters of the land, but without the deep engagement of culinary creativity there will never be a sufficient marketplace for farmers to grow in a way that is good for the soil. Stone Barns Center’s vision for catalyzing an ecological food culture will frame the relationships, experiments, and collaborations that will make the kale story just one of thousands that fundamentally change how we eat in this country; these stories will become the rule, rather than the exception.
Stone Barns will tackle the linear, disconnected structure of value chains and reorient them into a networked economy for our diverse Hudson Valley community and inspire analogous change across the globe. We will unlock the full potential of regenerative farming by developing food system change agents, addressing climate change through responsible food production, exemplifying healthy living systems and ultimately democratizing the “good food movement.” Our vision provides the framework for a new set of logical economic pathways that remove friction from the current system so that more small farmers can efficiently enter the marketplace and achieve financial sustainability through the very work that stewards their land and soils.
For example, when regional milling is revitalized and there is sufficient local knowledge and infrastructure to mill, store, distribute and bake diverse grains, farmers will be able to meet demand by incorporating crop rotations more strategically, improving their ecosystems while diversifying revenue streams. Likewise, when the culinary potential of grassfed beef is fully realized through robust analysis and experimentation, the infrastructural issues standing in the way of the local grassfed beef supply meeting demand can begin to be dismantled as the product becomes more reliable and consistent.
These changes will bring prices down for consumers and earnings up for the farmers who are stewarding and improving our region’s soils and grasslands. The broader accessibility of these diverse grains and humanely raised grassfed meat will improve both ecosystems and diets, leaving behind the inequalities baked into a system in which healthy whole foods are only available to those with significant disposable income.
Central to achieving this audacious vision is a redoubled commitment to the work done at our extraordinary campus in the Hudson Valley, home to both Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a partnership which has elevated food and farming for the past 15 years. Our campus will be completely rethought to exemplify this networked food culture and economy brought to life through human-centered experiences and rooted in ecological farming. A more fully optimized campus centered around interconnected lab initiatives will come to life, accelerating innovation to drive change in the food system by unlocking the full potential of farm product.
The labs themselves are physical spaces—a farm, kitchen, mill, butchery, etc.—but together they create a living exhibit, classroom, and research center for the future of food rooted in healthy soils and ecosystems. Food systems changemakers and stakeholders from the community will be invited to engage with these spaces as a living example of a reimagined food system. The campus will serve as the center of a large and interconnected community that exists here in our Place but extends far beyond the participants who come here through creative partnerships and the data and stories we broadcast to educate the public about ecological eating. The effort to optimize the effectiveness of our campus is being undertaken in partnership with MASS Design, another applicant to the Food System Vision Prize with an aligned and complementary approach to invigorating food systems change in our Place.
Technology is an essential part of this vision. Monitoring, data collection, and informed practice are at the core of a regenerative farming landscape that has the credibility to underpin these new patterns. Each of the lab spaces on our campus will function in a data-driven framework that commits to understanding the possibilities of new techniques to support health from an ecosystems and human perspective. The data and learnings will in turn inform our broadcasting practice, which will fully democratize the knowledge we generate by making it available globally. We imagine a series of networked, empowered farmers and culinary artisans working together under a new regional food infrastructure and culture. Through on-campus experiences and training, as well as a robust broadcasting operation, these changemakers will gain the information they need to build ecologically and financially viable operations.
In the prototyping phase we are now embarking upon, we will develop the research to revolutionize these culinary innovations and the programs to scale the ideas behind them for the greatest impact. We center regionality and regional food systems, but the thinking we develop can be replicated as a pattern of cultural engagement with food for the country and around the world. By 2050, the work of these labs will have taken hold as a force for change within the food system, laying the groundwork for new economic models and policy change that make local food production and consumption in service of healthy soils and healthy communities the norm.
It’s 2050. What does this change look like when it is pursued comprehensively through Stone Barns Center’s labs, education and broadcasting?
Imagine a butcher, armed with the knowledge of whole-animal butchery, grassfed beef processing and food systems activism she gained at Stone Barns, launching a new butchery in downtown Poughkeepsie. At first, she has a hard time finding sources of beef that are consistently high quality and that she can offer at a reasonable price to her customers. Over time, through the relationships she builds as a result of her ongoing engagement with Stone Barns, she meets struggling dairy farmers eager to stay on the land but hamstrung because of fluid milk’s seemingly bottomless prices. She meets her state legislator and uses her new knowledge of advocacy gained at Stone Barns to share these stories with him. He is so moved that he shepherds through a new set of policies to provide financial support to dairy farmers moving into grassfed beef production and slaughterhouses that can process small numbers of animals while preserving meat quality. She connects the veteran farmers, who are new to beef production, to a fellow Stone Barns alumna who runs a cloud-based training and grassland monitoring program to guide them through their transition process and help them source the right animals for their landscapes.
Meanwhile, her customers have heard about the positive environmental impact of pasture-raised animals from Stone Barns Center’s podcasts and media appearances, and demand for her product continues to grow. She opens a cooking school next door to offer classes on cooking less “desirable” cuts, giving her customers not only the skills they need to prepare grassfed beef deliciously, but the language to seek out cuts that may be more affordable or offer different flavor profiles to diversify their home cooking. The butcher’s initial experience at Stone Barns positioned her to build the network and infrastructure she needed to catalyze exponential impact in her community and local food culture, supporting farm businesses, revitalized grasslands, and healthy diets as she built her own enterprise.
In 2050, this will be one of thousands of stories across the Hudson Valley that come to life through our work to catalyze an ecological food culture. Our campus will be the R&D lab that drives the innovation behind that food culture, and the radiating impact carried out through food system changemakers across the region will fundamentally transform regional patterns of eating. In doing so, at last, together we will bring about a food system guided by the values of healthy communities, vibrant ecologies, and regenerative growing practices.
How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?
Describe how your Vision developed over the course of the Refinement Phase.
The speed at which our world is changing feels unfathomable. Everyday it becomes more clear that our pre-Covid food system must be dismantled. As a restaurant and Stone Barns Center’s main partner, Blue Hill has been deeply impacted by the mandatory shutdown. As a community and a team, we have been forced to be nimble, creative, collaborative and entrepreneurial in order to make it through this crisis.
As a result, the partnership between Stone Barns and Blue Hill solidified to create resourcED, a program to strengthen local food systems, defend independent farmers during the pandemic and set a path forward for a future food system based on resilience. Our FVP team adapted, as well. It now consists of farmers, administrators, chefs, bartenders, restaurant managers, and others. Out of necessity we have found a new dynamism and an invigorated sense of purpose. We see the weaknesses in our food system more clearly and will tackle them tirelessly.
Please provide the names of all organizations you meaningfully partnered with to develop this latest version of your Vision (they contributed at least 10 hours of time to the Vision development during the Refinement Phase).
By engaging expert practitioners across key areas of the supply chain (farmers, chefs, artisans, innovators, engineers, seed breeders, scientists), we will design and model what an interconnected food system can look like. Together, we will lay the groundwork for each of the Labs, in both the programmatic and physical sense, establishing our campus as an R&D Lab that will unlock the full potential of regenerative farming in the Hudson Valley.
Stone Barns Center:
Blue Hill at Stone Barns:
MASS Design Group:
Describe the specific steps you took during the Refinement phase to include different stakeholders to develop your Vision, including a description (age, profile, and total number) of the stakeholders engaged, and how you engaged with each.
Our community outreach strategy was re-oriented but imbued with even greater purpose with the outbreak of Covid. We aligned our community engagement with our resourcED program initiatives to support our region’s independent food system. Here are the specific steps we took:
Hudson Valley Farm Report
We sent a survey for small- and mid-sized producers in the Hudson Valley in order to get a better understanding of the immediate impact of the crisis, the potential long-term effects, and what was needed for these farm businesses to flourish in the future.
Respondents: 216 Greater New York area farmers
Age: 64% were 18-44 years old
Gender: Female: 57% Male: 40% Non-binary: 0.8%
Location: Rural: 74.5% Suburban: 22.8% Urban: 2.6%
A report of our findings was presented to a NY State Senator and their staff.
Kitchen Farming Project (KFP)
The KFP is an initiative to catalyze out-of-work cooks to take control of the future of food by committing to plant a garden right now. It is meant to galvanize a movement to remind people of the importance of the connection between eating and farming, especially in this moment. The response was overwhelming. KFP by the numbers:
Total number: 2,800 (+)
Number of Countries: 66
Number of U.S. States: 47
Total in Hudson Valley: 400 (+)
Top Industries Represented: Hospitality, other food industry, education/students, media/arts
Outreach: social media, personal emails, and a weekly newsletter
One cook showed so much passion and excitement around the project and the future possibilities, she inspired our “Day in the Life” character.
What signals and trends did you draw from to inform your Vision? Please provide data or examples that back up each signal or trend.
The signals and trends we drew from to inform our Vision include:
Signal: Growing national awareness and action as a result of the health, environmental, animal welfare, and worker costs of industrial meat production. As data and stories on the connection between diet and chronic disease, the ecological impact of industrial farming, and horrific depictions of industrial livestock and worker safety have gained traction, consumers have looked to diet-based solutions that would be less harmful to their health and to the environment. (Moskin, Carrington, Safran Foer, Schulze, Bittman).
Trend: Plant-based burgers explode in popularity and sales growth. In response to growing consumer demand for meals that seem to align with health and ethical goals related to the above trend, plant-based and lab-grown meat alternatives have exploded (Friend, Cunningham). As with the rest of the industrialized food system, however, these reductive approaches may solve one challenge while causing others; the complexities of our food system require more complex solutions and cannot be solved with a single food product. In this case, we were inspired to work toward a vision that asks not what we should grow and eat instead of meat, but how we can grow and eat meat and other ecologically important foods in a way that supports ecosystems health, rather than wreaking so much havoc.
Signal: As the Covid crisis unfolded, supply chains shut down overnight. Grocery store shelves were bare as well-trod paths of the industrialized food system crumbled (Schafer, Arkin). The industrial food chain, embodied through abundant grocery store shelves, was suddenly shown to be deeply vulnerable.
Trend: More people begin sourcing locally through farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture programs (Danovich). According to our survey, farmers are reporting increased sales through CSA, on-site farm stores and online home deliveries during the pandemic. But this increase in sales will not make up for the loss of other revenue streams or the increased costs required to sell through these channels. Jack Algiere, Stone Barns Farm Director, points out that as peak growing season approaches and farmers move from having one restaurant customer that orders 1,000 pounds of squash to 1,000 customers that order one pound of squash, farmers will be hard pressed to keep up with the labor demands to harvest, process, and pack these orders.
We used this to inform our vision as we realized more infrastructure is needed to support local, resilient supply chains.
Describe a “Day in the Life” of a key food system actor within your food system in 2050 (e.g., farmer, chef, supply chain actor, food policy actor, etc.).
Pruitt starts her day at home in Kingston, NY with coffee brewed from beans developed in the U.S. It’s a breeding experiment she’s been following closely for years. Smiling to herself, she is reminded of the gallons of coffee that fueled her behind the line at Blue Hill, back in her early cook days. Her first stop today is to a partner farm with whom she works hand in glove to supply her restaurant because of their specialization in Southeast Asian produce like ginger, lemongrass, and galangal, along with 38 varieties of chili peppers for her hot sauces. They’re trialing an heirloom Thai pepper, which Pruitt hopes to use in her next line of sauces. She grabs a few peppers to try. These ones are specifically bred to retain flavor and nutrition in cold storage--are fresh NY-grown peppers in late fall and winter really possible? 30 years ago this was a cook’s fantasy, but through innovations in cold storage it’s become a reality. She runs off to Hot Hands, the hot sauce R&D company and brick and mortar that she started years ago. She leaves the new peppers with her culinary team and swipes a bottle of fermented ramp sauce to taste before reviewing her lecture notes one more time. She’s honored to have been asked to speak about seed breeding for fermentation at the Culinary Institute of America. Recently she’s received several accolades as a champion of regionally and culturally relevant food across the globe. In her travels back to Thailand she has benefited from grounding in a longstanding food culture and has been able to help catalyze new innovations to keep Thai produce local. After the class, she heads to her restaurant for the pre-shift meeting. A farmer from one of her partner farms is presenting the next crop rotation to the staff and Pruitt’s head fills with ideas for the week’s menu. The first diners walk into the restaurant. Having staked her claim as processor, producer, and preparer, Pruitt dons her apron with the same smile she shared with her coffee.
Environment | How will your food system of 2050 adapt to climate change and remain resilient?
What did it take for Rotation Risotto (please read story in Full Refined Vision first) to capture minds and taste buds across the Hudson Valley and the globe, such that it was able to deliver tremendous impact for human and ecological health? The six themes help us understand.
How we eat largely determines how our world is used. In 2010, agriculture was responsible for 24% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions (“Global Greenhouse”). That's more than all of the world's cars, planes and trains combined. Its list of offenses is long: deforestation, soil erosion, livestock methane emissions, waste, fertilizers, transportation...and it keeps going. The picture painted for us by The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is grim, “humans must drastically alter food production to prevent the most catastrophic effects of global warming” (Arneth). While the Hudson Valley has been hailed as a beacon of “farm-to-table” culture, we are not maximizing the amount of local food grown and consumed in our area and our foodshed is reliant on the global system that exacts a heavy toll on the environment.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, and over the next three decades, agriculture will be our greatest asset in the fight against global warming. In Project Drawdown’s list of the top 20 climate change solutions that are actionable now, the agricultural industry can claim eight: refrigerant management, reduced food waste, plant rich diets, silvopasture, regenerative agriculture, conservation agriculture, tree intercropping, and managed grazing. All eight are directly addressed in our Vision.
By the year 2050, the explosive popularity of Rotation Risotto, and other dishes like it, is essential to a regional and ultimately global effort to harness food production in service of confronting climate change. But it demands that we turn our attention now to the deliberate development of a coherent regional food culture in the Hudson Valley, through investment in regionally appropriate seed varieties that build soil and yield tremendous flavor, necessary infrastructure and training to support local farmers efforts, and connections between farmers, chefs, and food processors. When our diets demand diversified grains, grass-fed meat and fresh-cooked, seasonal foods, farmers will have economic incentive to use regenerative practices that have been proven to sequester carbon, rehabilitate depleted soils, reduce chemical inputs, promote diverse species and thriving ecosystems (“Regenerative Agriculture'').
In our system, livestock will return to their rightful place on pasture, this time with more advanced tools to make management practices more efficient and ecological monitoring effortless. The animals will help manage grasslands without fossil fuels and heavy equipment, sequester carbon, and bring back biodiversity of denuded soils and landscapes. This transition will be a benefit to the environment because of the management practices, but it will also mean that the dairy and livestock industries will no longer need the extreme levels of conventionally grown grain that it once demanded in order to feed their animals, leaving that land available for diversified regional grains for human consumption and benefiting the environment once again. Much of the economic success bestowed on grass-fed beef production in the Hudson Valley will be thanks to culinary innovations developed in our Butchery Lab and Culinary R&D Lab to maximize the use of each animal and the quality of meat produced so that grass-fed will grow in popularity and accessibility.
Rotation Risotto, and the hundreds of other possibilities that will follow in its footsteps, makes choosing ecologically responsible and regenerative food the easy, affordable choice, leading to repair of the soil structure and carbon-sequestering potential of the Hudson Valley’s 659,000 acres of farmland (Litton) through the very food we eat.
Diets | How will your food system of 2050 address malnutrition in all its forms (undernutrition, micronutrient deficiency, metabolic disease) for the people living there?
With diet-related illness ravaging our communities, leaving people of all ages more vulnerable to Covid-19 and other severe health complications, it has become clear that we can’t have public health without a healthy food system.
The story is well-known yet the numbers continue to grow. Conventional agriculture’s fixation on efficiency and yield has led to less nutritious food (Muller). According to the Rodale Institute, the food we eat today contains less protein, calcium, phosphorus, iron, riboflavin and vitamin C than food produced just a half-century ago. While there is more food grown than ever before, diet-related disease continues to rise (Nutrition Density). In 2019, diet related illnesses were the leading cause of death in New York (“The Burden”). Our food system is making us sick and costing us billions.
How do we shift our food culture away from diets that are built on processed, chemically laden foods to ones driven by ecological health? How do we get people to switch from eating white rice to Rotation Risotto? It is only possible when it is led by deliciousness.
Through the work of our Seed Breeding Lab, Stone Barns Center will work with partners to develop seed varieties that are place-specific and prioritize flavor and nutrition over yield and storability. Seeds that are specifically bred to shine in a regional system--no trans-continental shipping necessary--yield fruits and vegetables that can be picked and eaten at peak ripeness. Our Preservation Lab coordinates with the seed breeders, farmers and chefs to weigh in on what qualities work best for fermentation, so people have nutritious food throughout the year, not just during the summer and fall months when farms can grow best. Consequently, families will be less reliant on nutritionally hollow foods in agriculturally dormant seasons.
Our Culinary R&D Lab will then innovate and experiment with the seasonal ingredients to bring flavor to the forefront. The Broadcast Lab will share our learnings, and connect people to the stories and the importance of each ingredient, introducing farmers, chefs, breeders, artisans, and purveyors to the public to popularize dishes that connect our food to our ecological and human health, as in the example of growth of interest in kale we mentioned in our original submission. The result is a compelling, sensory relationship with food, a cultural shift, from uncontextualized consumption to connection and reverence. As the culture shift drives demand, the costs will come down, making local food more accessible to the 232,000 food insecure individuals in the Hudson Valley (“Special Report: Food Security”).
In 2050, Rotation Risotto moves to a starring role on kitchen tables, school lunch line-ups, fast-casual restaurant offerings and fine-dining menus across the entire Hudson Valley. It is prized for its flavor, flexibility (just about any grain/legume combination works in the recipe and it complements every meal), and affordability. As it gains popularity and mass appeal, we begin to see a big impact on the general health of our population. It's proven that whole grains have tremendous health benefits for humans. The American Heart Association correlates increased whole grain and fiber consumption with improved blood cholesterol levels and lower risk of heart disease, stroke, obesity and type 2 diabetes plus an overall healthier immune system.
In great part because of the research, development, and training efforts at Stone Barns, the Hudson Valley has revived its local and regional grain production over the30 years leading to 2050. A steady shift in access to delicious whole grains and the increase in local food processors who transform them into delicious freshly milled flours, fiber-rich breads, sprouted and fermented pantry items, grains have moved our diets away from our previous addiction to nutrient-deficient, shelf stable, fiberless carbohydrate products. Gone are the white breads and endless white rice dish accompaniments. Rotation Risotto is delicious, affordable, healthy, and adaptable to every cuisine and region in the world.
Economics | Where and what will the jobs be that support living wages in your future food system of 2050, and how will these jobs impact gender equality?
In 2019, there was nearly $900 million in unmet demand for locally grown food in New York City (“Securing Fresh”). Hudson Valley farmers are uniquely positioned to fill this need but the lack of a coherent food culture has resulted in insufficient infrastructure to facilitate the supply. “Farm-to-table” farmers, chefs and eaters function despite the obstacles of the industrial food system and must work harder under less-efficient circumstances to succeed, resulting in higher prices and less accessible food.
The main issues stunting the growth of regenerative agriculture in our region are a lack of mentorship and educational platforms, as well as infrastructure, to support our producers, processors, and preparers (Cernansky). According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “strengthened linkages between farms, markets and consumers can be an important source of income growth and job creation in both rural and urban areas.” Our 2050 Vision does just that by reshaping the food economy: from a linear, transactional system into a networked, circular one, which benefits farmers, practitioners, consumers, communities and the earth.
Today only $.14 goes to the farmer for every dollar spent on food. In our current system, rotational grains that build soil and reduce the use of chemical inputs are underrepresented in favor of “money crops” such as corn, soy and wheat. According to the USDA, the price per bushel for buckwheat was almost a dollar less than that of wheat in 2018. As a result, commercial farmers are unable to diversify and follow rotation cycles because their already-narrow margins cannot withstand further trimming.
Despite these obstacles, the Local Economies Project reports in Reviving Grain in the Hudson Valley that there is great interest from small farmers in the specialized grain market. Their recommendations for overcoming the obstacles are investments in the following: expansion of research, training and education programs, equipment and infrastructure assistance and better coordination among local businesses (Brannen, 4).
Empowering the farmer is about capturing the true value of a product, from root to leaf to grain and fruit after it leaves the farm. This idea of extending farming beyond the farm, into the marketplace allows farmers to inform the process and create value for their product along the supply chain, says Jack Algiere, Farm Director at Stone Barns. In order for this to happen, the people all along the chain - from the miller to the preservationist - need to become stewards of the land by understanding the value of regenerative farming and their role in translating that value to the customer. Therefore, the farm-to-table movement is in need of more middlemen. Not just chefs, farmers and eaters, but millers, maltsters, butchers, processors, preservers, fermenters and distributors. And not just, in fact, food producers--but also the craftspeople who work with the agricultural materials that make up our textiles, ceramics, decor and built environment.
Through robust partnerships and relationships, our labs will research, develop, experiment with not only seeds and delicious recipes, but the processing systems, storage, machinery, equipment, tools, and technological monitoring systems that are necessary to catalyze a regional food system. An integral part of each of our labs will be to provide training, mentorship and resources to the next generation of sustainable food producers, all of the middlemen and women who make up our circular economy. Then, and arguably only then, can we affect the regional food system, providing the economic lift required to spur more regenerative farming while feeding millions of people more healthfully with regionally and seasonally relevant foods.
In 2050, the ubiquity of Rotation Risotto on tables across our region will reflect the success of our investment, as our region will be benefiting from the efficiencies and tightened network. It will mean more farms and more farm operators and workers. More chefs and cooks. More educators and researchers. It will mean growth in the sectors that support agriculture, including banking, IT, engineering, manufacturing, apparel and processing. It will have spurred growth in all the processor roles we have discussed like bakers, millers, malters, brewers, fermenters, artists, butchers, breeders, and more. It is the embodiment of a circular economy, one that applies regenerative farming and culinary innovation to not only utilize the full plant (and animal, if you so choose to add to your recipe) but to do so in a way that fully supports healthy systems - not the least of which is the economy.
Culture | How will your 2050 food system ensure that the cultural, spiritual and community traditions and/or practices in your Place flourish?
A food culture emerges out of a particular set of geographic, climactic and cultural circumstances and is characterized by techniques of preserving and cooking food, combinations of flavors, and social practices of cooking and eating that are unique to that culture. Food cultures are also grounded in the necessity of working with what is available: of eating fresh food at the peak of the season and preserving and storing what cannot be consumed right away or reaches heightened flavor through a processing or preservation technique.
The culinary identity of the Hudson Valley is a blend of cultures from all over the world, perhaps more so than any other place in the globe; yet that diversity is most often not reflected at farmers markets or in the local food movement. By connecting farmers, chefs, breeders and communities, our lab work and our partnerships will help develop seeds and flavors that are culturally diverse but suited for our climate. Such efforts will foster the development of a regional food culture that reflects agriculture and terroir while increasing biodiversity on farms. Local produce will be representative of more of the Hudson Valley’s numerous communities and cultures, helping to open the local food movement to all. This reintegration of cooking with ecological management, food production, and seed saving forms the foundation of our Hudson Valley food culture.
The regenerative food system that develops both in service of and thanks to the success of Rotation Risotto, spurred on by the work taking place across the Stone Barns labs, enables a greater range of cultural, spiritual and community traditions grounded in place-based agriculture to take hold. Because regionally and seasonally appropriate food that is accessible to all and reflects a much more biodiverse range of crops from all over the world is now available in our region, New York’s diverse communities have the opportunity to prepare traditional foods grown in local, healthy soil. Such foods form the foundation of community gatherings, celebrations and lifecycle events; in this way, the regional Hudson Valley food culture supports and is manifested through as many food cultures as there are communities in our region.
Technology | What technological advances are needed to transform your food system into one that meets your goals and embodies the values of your Vision in 2050?
Technology is often thought to be at odds with the natural world. The disconnect between urban centers and farming communities prevents the technological innovators of New York City from using their skills to center the needs of their rural neighbors, including soil-based famers. Where technology and investment are brought to bear for agriculture, they tend to perpetuate the reductive system that is already in place: the Impossible Burger as an effort to curb meat intake; vertical farms that produce much-needed food but remove soil from the equation. But can we rethink this relationship? Is there a way to service biology through technology? By marrying agriculture with diet, our 2050 Vision draws from and celebrates regional farming and local and global cooking traditions, while benefiting from the technological advances of the modern age.
In the last decade, Stone Barns has shown how research, without the mandate of bottom-line thinking, can provide a breeding ground for new ideas and methods. On our way to our 2050, we will deepen our collaboration with researchers, scientists, engineers and other experts to drive innovation to promote soil-based farming and eating. Through experimentation, prototyping, monitoring, and data collection, our Labs will underpin new patterns of growing and preparing food that are necessary for regionalized food culture to take hold.
How can we reduce food waste and extend the life and nutrition of produce after harvest? Our Cold Storage Lab aims to support farmers and eaters (and vegetables) through winter in the Hudson Valley when seasonal diets must turn to root vegetables and shelf-stable foods for sustenance. Our Lab will break ground in the preservation of raw crops, extending the season for many and revolutionizing the way we perceive life after harvest. Our success will lead to steady, year-round profits for farmers, less fluctuation in farm labor needs, reduced carbon footprint accrued from imported goods, and increased nutrition availability for consumers. Not to mention how delicious it will all be.
The Mill Lab offers another opportunity for technological innovation to support the development of a regional ecological food culture. A state-of-the-art mill that combines roller and stone milling and can process a growing range of diversified grains at a commercial scale will require technological prowess to program and fine tune. Our belief is that by bringing commercial-scale technology into an agricultural system that has historically been viewed as too complex for significant technological intervention, we will add a critical layer of scale and viability to the ecological food culture and expand the availability of Rotation Risotto’s key ingredients.
Policy | What types of policies are needed to enable your future food system?
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations explains that in order for systemic change to be made to our food system, policy makers must prioritize “responsible investments and concern for smallholder livelihoods, the environmental footprint of lengthening food supply chains, and impacts on biodiversity.” Our current policy does the exact opposite--it maps to a reductive, monoculture model that relies on a complicated yet fragile system of transportation, imports and exports in order to survive. Never have these vulnerabilities been so clear as they have in the wake of the Covid pandemic. As the challenges of long supply chains and centralized distribution channels have been exposed, there is tremendous opportunity to design policy that aligns farmer incentives with what's good for the soil and lay the foundation for re-regionalization.
Farmland in our region is among the most expensive in the U.S., and we’re losing area farmland rapidly. There is currently not enough policy in place to help farmers access land and to farm regeneratively. Likewise, as our Hudson Valley Farmer Report indicates, Covid has pushed small farms to a breaking point. More than 30% of small farms reported that they are in jeopardy of closing this season without significant financial support. If these farms shutter, they will not come back and the last 30 years of work to build up the independent food network in our region will be erased.
Likewise, food safety requirements are mapped to the needs of industrial agriculture; quality and flavor are sacrificed to address the foodborne illness risks embedded in large scale farming and processing, making it challenging for smaller food producers to get to market. We are in a position to share the perspective of the small farmer and processor in order to enable culinary artisans to deliver healthy, safe, delicious food at all price points.
The full realization of our Vision requires policy that incentivizes and rewards regenerative production practices. Such policy change would lead to sustainably produced, local food becoming more affordable, making whole and nutritious foods more financially accessible to broader socio-economic groups in our region and driving a greater share of the food dollar to regenerative farmers.
We will build off the success of current New York state policies that are facilitating demand in markets. GrowNYC’s Regional Grain Project requires bakeries at their GreenMarkets to use at least 15% local grains in their baked goods, and the Craft NY and Farm Brewing Act requires brewers and distillers to source a certain percentage of their ingredients from New York farms. Currently, the legislation requires 20 percent of grains and hops to be state-grown, with a gradual increase to 90 percent by 2024 (“Small Grains”). Given that the Hudson Valley Farm Hub estimates that one microbrewery would need about 400 acres worth of barley alone to maintain production, and that in 2018 there were 295 farm and microbreweries in the state, there is a tremendous opportunity for Hudson Valley growers to capitalize on this market share in the coming years and for our Labs to partner with these growers to trial seed varieties and promote biodiversity (“Governor Cuomo”).
This market incentive will act as the call to action for farmers and culinary influencers to revitalize the regional grain movement in the Hudson Valley. It will lay the groundwork for Rotation Risotto to come to life, at first through our labs but then on tables of all varieties and model the importance of policy to support farmers who prioritize local and regenerative. Its success coupled with the glaring reality that we need to regionalize our food systems will pave the way for more policy to support grass-fed beef production and processing facilities, as well as infrastructure necessities.
Describe how these 6 Themes connect with and influence one another in your food system.
In our 2050 Vision, we will tackle the linear, disconnected structure of value chains and reorient them into a networked, thriving economy for our diverse Hudson Valley community. The six themes of Environment, Technology, Diet, Culture, Policy, and Economy are deeply interwoven into the ecosystem. Through partnerships with farmers, chefs, eaters, artisans, innovators, seed breeders, scientists, storytellers, activists, policymakers and more, each lab space will usher food system stakeholders and changemakers into new realms of their work with food and culture at every level.
In our system, Culture leads the way. A shift in food culture from one that supports the industrial food system to one that is in full alignment with farmers is the roadmap to a nourishing and regenerative food system. Policy will build the infrastructure required to support this transition. By establishing incentives for farmers across the region to farm in ways that support healthy soil and ecosystems (e.g., diverse crops, rotational grains, regeneratively grazed livestock), which will increase the supply of nutritious food exponentially. This will affect the Environment of our region by rewarding farmers for practices that improve ecological health through their farmwork, as well as the Economics and Diet of our region by driving more spending toward ecologically grown foods, and the ability to purchase more healthy food by more of our community thanks to increased supply. Further, with an influx of interest in organic farming, the Economics of our region will shift as more of our food dollars remain local and the efforts of farmers who are stewarding the land are more richly rewarded, leading to greater equity for farmers and farmworkers.
As the demand for regionalized agriculture increases, Technology will provide tools and processes to help farmers grow more diverse crops, improve cold storage functionality, and mill a wide range of grains. Groundbreaking developments are required for year-round local produce, but demand begets funding, which begets innovation, which begets efficiency. These technological advances will help address longstanding infrastructure obstacles for regional food systems, bringing more whole, nutritious food to market and driving costs down. By working hand in hand with area Policy makers, we can expand the access of nutritious foods to diverse socioeconomic groups in our region and help heal our community. We will watch as rates of diabetes and obesity fall, building the case for food as medicine. When supporting local agriculture no longer requires paying a premium and eating healthfully is no longer financially out of reach for so many of our neighbors, the choice to partake in such a food culture can become the default; the option is no longer limited to those with expendable income, leading to a unified and democratic change that can be expressed through the thousands of Cultures our Hudson Valley communities represent.
Describe any trade-offs you may have to make within your system to attain your Vision by 2050.
As with any significant systemic shift, there will be tradeoffs, adjustments, growing pains and short-term costs associated with transforming the Hudson Valley food culture from one that is largely reliant on imports to a robust, self-sustaining food system from soil to plate and back again. Local corporations, institutions, farmers and restaurants alike used to conducting business within the industrialized food system may be challenged to meet the demands of diversified, regenerative farming and processing businesses. It’s possible some will not survive this transition, which hurts workers up and down the food chain, but policy incentives and extensive training opportunities will offer companies the opportunity to evolve alongside the changing system.
While this transition may bring some pain to companies and workers, it is our belief that in the long run a regenerative Hudson Valley food system will protect and serve workers across the food chain much more effectively than our current system does, in terms of occupational health and safety, living wage and benefits as economic viability increases for regenerative businesses, and reliable year-round jobs supported by a four-season local food system. Corporations, for their part, are well positioned to pivot during this time period: this is the time to make tradeoffs and difficult business decisions, as so much has already been lost and disrupted due to Covid. Local commodity farmers may have to make adjustments as well, but we anticipate that once trust is built in the regenerative system and the economic and ecological benefits of diversified agriculture begin to return dividends, the pain for farmers will begin to be ameliorated and ensure their long-term viability.
3 Years | Describe 3 key milestones that you would need to achieve within the next three years for your Vision to be on track?
Three critical milestones are:
1) A fully functioning Fermentation and Preservation Lab that is intimately connected with promoting organic agriculture, celebrates the cultural and historical roots of preservation from the African diaspora to Eastern Europe, including the indigenous traditions of the Lower Hudson Valley, and explores new ideas in service of connecting health and deliciousness with microbial activity in the soil. As the first lab to be fully prototyped, it will serve as the blueprint for how we will integrate programs, research, and broadcasting into our vision.
2) A fully functioning first-in-its-class 100% pasture-raised, whole animal butchery. As the grass-fed movement gains momentum, animal processing facilities need a reset in service of farmers and the grass-fed animals they raise. Through a new Butchery Lab, we can help dismantle the infrastructural issues standing in the way of local grass-fed beef on both the farming and the culinary side. With a room to properly fabricate, hang and age cuts of grass-fed meat and by researching novel cutting approaches, the lab can maximize the potential of each animal, leading to better yields and reduced food waste and improving the economic viability of livestock farms.
3) Laying the groundwork for a robust Broadcasting Lab, characterized by a diverse set of activities that archive and share the innovations developed across the labs. The Broadcasting Lab will create networks that connect diverse communities of food workers from within our region and beyond. One of the main issues stunting the growth of regenerative agriculture in our region is a lack of mentorship and educational platforms for producers, processors, and preparers. Within each lab, there will be training on site but we will use our broadcasting and storytelling capabilities to expand the reach of our efforts and insights, inspiring analogous change across the globe.
10 Years | What progress will you need to make—by 2030—that would set your Vision up to become a reality by 2050?
It’s 2030 and our movement is growing. Here is a snapshot: progressive policy, strong regional partnerships and ambitious broadcasting initiatives have positioned us to expand our model. All of our labs are actualized, fully operational, and working individually and collectively to address pressing issues around food and farming. The partnerships that these labs bring to life are powerful - university scientists working with farmers and chefs to coordinate year 5 of a multi-farm network in the Hudson Valley to trial seed varieties that are soil-building, irresistibly delicious, and impervious to major weather swings, as climate change has brought more variability and vulnerability. Experts from the Northeast Grain Shed, a consortium of grain growers, processors, producers, organizations, institutions, researchers that is committed to a functional and regional grain supply, are working with us to host farmer-chef conferences that focus on technical skills as well as tool development and market opportunities. Livestock farmers and engineers from a mobile fencing company are experimenting with prototypes of in-pasture scales to help monitor grass consumption and make rotational grazing more efficient, a direct result of our ecological monitoring program that tracks carbon sequestration, grass species, pollinators and water systems, and the R&D Kitchen drawing connections between an animal’s diet and taste, and taste to environmental impact.
Our Broadcasting Lab has established partnerships with some of the great media outlets which allows for broad and compelling reach for the stories that are developing on campus and around the region. Ten years in, we’ve been able to use our platform to amplify the voices of so many important food system actors, fostering connections that have deep impact in other regions and live on far beyond our campus.
If awarded the $200,000 prize what would you do with it?
The prize money would provide critical support to build out the vision for the Preservation and Fermentation lab under the leadership of Cortney Burns, chef, author and fermentation specialist and Jovan Sage, farmer, herbalist, activist and food alchemist.
We will undertake the work of designing this lab with a deep respect for traditions from around the world—reflecting the needs, voices and experiences of diverse communities and cultures.
The fermentation and preservation laboratory will connect the microbial community of healthy soil with age-old techniques for reducing waste, increasing nutrient density and improving flavor. The lab would highlight the historical roots of fermentation and preservation from the African diaspora to Eastern Europe, with a particular emphasis on the indigenous traditions from the Lower Hudson Valley, while outlining how preservation can be intimately connected with promoting organic agriculture at Stone Barns and beyond. From this vision we could develop a blueprint for how this laboratory will honor old ideas, explore new ones, and open source all learnings to the world in a dynamic way.
If you are chosen as a Top Visionary, The Rockefeller Foundation would like to share your Vision widely with a global audience. What would you like the world to learn from your Vision for 2050?
Chefs, butchers, bakers, eaters--all of us--are part of the success of the independent food movement, and in ways that have become much more urgent since the onset of Covid. Tinkering at the edges of the industrialized food system is not enough to ensure the long-term success of independent farming; it is on all of us to do our part. The Stone Barns Center vision outlines a path forward, one that includes actors across the food system who must engage in a dogged fight for the future of food.
Please share a visual that communicates the structure and operation of your food system in 2050. Describe the visual.
This is our system in 2050. In the middle is the Stone Barns Center and its ecosystem of Labs, which all the stakeholders listed here contribute to and benefit from; it is completely symbiotic, echoing the biological processes at the core of our food system. As the relationships and connections work with one another, the result is a strong system that is resilient, interdependent, and nimble, allowing it to absorb shocks and remain intact as the world around us changes and adapts.