Food With a Story

Sustainable agriculture is rooted in stories.  The ingredients are an explanation of the product, but the stories are the depth–the people and places, care and consciousness—that create a meal.  Dan Barber, chef and co-owner of Blue Hill Restaurant and Blue Hill at Stone Barns has become one of the best storytellers for a new agricultural system.  “When we include stories it feeds people on another level,” he says.  “We are inviting people to become involved, for when they are involved they become invested in the entire process.”

Incorporating a working farm into the restaurant has helped the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture include diners into the story of their meal.  A visitor could help the farmer harvest vegetables that will become a part of his or her dish that same night.  When served, this visitor is transported beyond just the flavor of the food, to an experience and a set of actions that went into its production.

Barber is the intermediary between the farm’s visitors and the fields.  His recipes and writings are the tales that relate the happenings on the farm, the movement of the seasons, and even the changes in his mood.  For instance, he tells the story of an attempt to develop almond flavored carrots by applying almond dust to the soil.  Word circulated and the results of the experiment became a highly anticipated event, both in the restaurant and on the farm.  After harvesting and putting them on the menu, Barber tasted the result.  No almond flavor.

Though the initial experiment failed to produce almond flavored carrots, the story demonstrates the connection between the farm and the restaurant.

Where else but Blue Hill could the chef envision almond carrots, carry the idea directly to the farmer, plant the seeds and spread the dust, watch them grow, harvest them, and then prepare the dish?

The failure of this experiment hardly dampens the success of what Dan Barber has accomplished.  Stone Barns pulls together the parts of a food system—the land, the farmer, the chef, and the diner–that have been separated by industrial agriculture.  Barber chronicles this movement as his personal quest to create delicious meals and as a parable for sea change in the way our food is produced.

Dan Barber will be joined by Sally Fallon Morell and Anna Lappe as speakers at the 28th Annual E. F. Schumacher Lectures on Saturday, October 25, 2008 beginning at 10 am at the First Congregational Church on Main Street in Stockbridge, MA. Tickets are 25 BerkShares/dollars and 15 for members/students/seniors. The event is sponsored by The Gardener’s Supply Company.