DAN BARBER is the Chef of Blue Hill, a restaurant in Manhattan's West Village, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, located within the nonprofit farm and education center, Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture. His opinions on food and agricultural policy have appeared in the New York Times, along with many other publications. Barber has received multiple James Beard awards including Best Chef: New York City (2006) and the country's Outstanding Chef (2009). In 2009 he was named one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people in the world.
To expand on his philosophy of cooking with sustainably grown, local ingredients, Dan has been working with such organizations as the Kellogg Foundation, Slow Food USA and Earth Pledge to minimize the political and intellectual rhetoric around agricultural policies and to instead maximize the appreciation of eating good food. Focusing on the issues of pleasure, taste and regional bounty-and how these imperatives are threatened-Dan helped create the philosophical and practical framework for Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and continues to help guide it in its mission to create a consciousness about the effects of everyday food choices.
He is author of the book The Third Plate: Field Notes on the Future of Food.
Question: Is the locavore trend reviving local farmers?
Dan Barber: Well you know yeah. I mean there’s . . . right. There’s a whole movement for knowing where your food is coming from and making sure that it’s within this kind of food shed that’s, you know, what, 200 miles or 300 miles? The definitions seem to change, but “local” is a broad term for knowing more about where your food is coming from and having it be from, you know, a car ride away. Is it making a difference? I mean in the last 10 years, the number of farmer’s markets has exploded by something like 80 percent. So it’s making a huge difference. In fact I would make the argument that the small, local farm . . . family farm is doing quite well. It’s a booming business because people like you are suddenly asking me those questions, and there’s a consciousness about it. There’s a need for it. The other end of the spectrum is the big, mega farms with these huge economies of scale again in distribution, not in production and distribution. They’re also doing quite well. It’s the ones in the middle that are struggling quite a bit – the ones who are too big. They’re 500 acres and they’re too big to pack up a pickup truck and go to a farmer’s market, but they’re too small to compete in the mega food chain. Those are the ones that are being squeezed, and by some estimates that’s where 85 percent of our farmland is. And that’s where . . . That’s where the challenge is for this for the future. So chefs like me can talk ‘til we’re blue in the face about local food and supporting small family farms. That’s great, and it’s where a lot of flavor and diversity is for sure, and a lot of great ecological stewardship. But it’s not the answer to this whole thing. The answer is much more systemic. And it’s much more political because it ends up influencing how the Farm Bill is written and other legislation. And tax incentives . . . All of that gets played out on a political level when you get into big farming, and that’s really what feeds this country. The small family farm . . . farmer’s market is two percent of . . . of what we eat. It’s very small; very small. So when you get into, you know, big institutions like school lunch programs, hospitals, healthcare, like you get into real food where . . . where that’s what’s threatened, is where . . . which direction . . . Do we really wanna go mega farms and importing more and more of our food? Or do we wanna preserve these mid-sized ... family farms that have been around for generations and are really struggling in this new food world?