Thanks to Richard McCarthy, our Slow Food USA leader for sharing this opinion piece from Dan Barber, the chef and co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Stone Barns Center just outside of NYC proper, is easily one of the most important sites we have for learning and piloting good agricultural stewardship in the US: Read more here about their work. In this piece, Chef Barber talks about buyers needing to be more aware of the possible when working with growers, rather than just aware of the obvious. His identification of labels like Farm to Table as being limiting (and maybe even industrial) seems right on to me.
…Diversifying our diet to include more local grains and legumes is a delicious first step to improving our food system. Millet and rye are an easy substitute for rice or pasta. But that addresses only the low-hanging fruit of Klaas’s farm. More challenging is to think about how to honor the other underutilized parts of his rotations — classic cover crops like cowpeas and mustard, which fertilize the soil to ensure healthy harvests in the future.
Today, the best farmers are tying up valuable real estate for long periods of time (in an agonizingly short growing season) simply to benefit their soil. Imagine if Macy’s reserved half of its shelf space at Christmas for charitable donations. A noble idea. But profitable? Not so much. By creating a market for these crops, we can provide more value for the farmer and for our own diets, while supporting the long-term health of the land.
In Klaas’s field, I bent down and ripped off a green shoot of Austrian winter peas. I took a bite. Inedible? No, delicious! Thirty acres of the most tender and sweet pea shoots I’d ever tasted. (Harvesting the leaves would somewhat reduce the amount plowed back into the soil, but the plant’s soil benefits would remain.) In the distance I could make out a field of mustards. Klaas plants Tilney mustard, similar to the spicy green you find in a mesclun mix. I realized I wasn’t just looking at a cover crop. I was looking at a salad bowl.