Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is the product of a collaborative experiment. Its seeds were planted in the 1990s by the Rockefeller family, together with conservation planners, organic farmers and many others who came together to set a common vision and purpose for the land.
Their goal was a working farm practicing resilient, transparent, four-season agriculture and open to the public as a hub of learning, creativity and experimentation. They envisioned a place where people could connect with the land and farmers; a place that would help to inspire people to grow and eat sustainably produced food.
The land and buildings that are home to Stone Barns Center were once part of a 1930s dairy operation. In 2003, the Rockefeller family donated the 80-acre property and restored the barns to form the nonprofit Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, to honor the memory of Peggy Rockefeller—farmer and farmland preservationist.
Stone Barns Center’s founders invited Blue Hill, a Manhattan restaurant owned by Dan, David and Laureen Barber, to be Stone Barns Center’s onsite restaurant partner. Both Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture and Blue Hill at Stone Barns opened their doors to the public in April 2004. The partnership between a nonprofit education center and a restaurant was rare. Together, we set out to demonstrate the concept of an ecological cuisine—seasonal and regionally appropriate food grown and raised in harmony with the ecosystem of which the farm is a part.
Many experts collaborated on the farm’s design and the education center’s programs. Among them was leading organic farmer Eliot Coleman, who recommended that Jack Algiere be hired as head vegetable farmer; Jack became the Center’s first hire in 2003. Soon after, Craig Haney was hired to manage the pastured livestock operation; Dan Barber had been sourcing meat from Craig’s farm in upstate New York.
On the farm, our work and scope have grown beyond an initial focus on public awareness and children to include the Growing Farmers Initiative, our program to educate and train beginning farmers and help them get the resources they need to succeed. We held the first Young Farmers Conference in 2008. And we’ve branched out to embrace and encourage on-farm innovation and experimentation—projects geared toward resiliency, new tools and resources to help beginning farmers succeed, and that draw from the principles of nature to inform our relationship to the land.