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Row 7 aims to make rare seeds more accessible for chefs and home gardeners

Tim Nelson
March 02, 2018

Dan Barber’s made his name in the restaurant world thanks to his dogged pursuit of the perfect ingredients. The chef has turned Blue Hill at Stone Barns into one of the finest restaurants in New York, thanks to an emphasis on fresh ingredients and the introduction of bespoke produce like the Honeynut squash.

But instead of hoarding his rare finds, Barber’s latest venture wants to share unique vegetable varieties specifically engineered for excellent taste with the world. Co-founded by Barber and launched this week, Row 7 wants to put artisanal seeds in the hands of chefs and amateur gardeners, thanks to work by innovative plant breeders. In the process, Barber hopes to create a market and method of distribution for rare vegetable varieties that might otherwise miss out on mass appeal.

So far, the seed offerings include seven vegetables. Among them are a verdantly green cucumber, an update on Barber’s Honeynut squash, and the Habanada pepper, which mimics the flavor of the habañero with less of its infamous heat. Some of these crops are a product of what The New York Times calls “participatory plant breeding”, a process whereby plant breeders, farmers, and chefs collaborate on the development of new crops bred with attributes like color, crunch and taste in mind.

The support of major food industry players suggests that Row 7’s vision for a “seed-to-table” approach has legs. Investors include former Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb and Richard Schnieders, who once ran global food distributor Sysco. Barber’s co-founders include seed producer Matthew Goldfarb and Cornell plant breeder Michael Mazourek, whose collaboration with the Blue Hill chef on the Honeynut squash ten years ago first sparked his interest in selling seeds.

If all goes well, Row 7’s seed strategy could create a new, simpler way for regional farmers and independent geneticists to get their carefully-crafted crops onto supermarket shelves and into home garden soil all across the country. And with the company set to reinvest initial profits into the research by participating plant breeders, its offerings should expand even further in the future. Barber’s goal to “look at how we, as chefs, can change the culture of eating” is perhaps a lofty one, but Row7 sure seems like a novel way to get people to eat their vegetables.

 

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