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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.

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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

www.stonebarnscenter.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

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 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)

18720

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

1200000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

The Hudson Valley is a beacon of “farm-to-table” culture. But even the growing momentum in support of local farmers and food hasn’t been able to fundamentally address the food system’s deep shortcomings. 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: Although New York City boasts many of the world’s most innovative restaurants, sourcing local ingredients and applying the culinary know-how to use locally grown food year round remains challenging. It is easier (and more affordable) for restaurants and other food businesses to bring in predictable food from industrial and faraway sources, rather than to build menus based on the seasonal, regionally appropriate work of the Valley’s farmers. 


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 regenerative 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 in to 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 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 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.

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?

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.


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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.


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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?

  • Website
  • Prize partners

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Thank you so much for the Food Extension Initiative.

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