Q&A with Alum Davis Lindsey, Vegetable Manager at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture | Natural Gourmet Institute

Q&A with Alum Davis Lindsey, Vegetable Manager at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture

Posted May 6, 2015

Tell us about your journey to your current position at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture.

I first became interested in environmental and agricultural ethics while studying at Yale. My focus was agriculture because it provides a context for people to become active conservationists. I then went on to work as an environmental consultant at one of the premiere think tanks in the country, Rocky Mountain Institute. 18 months of work there confirmed my desire to work with my hands so I decided to pursue cooking. I began as a dishwasher at the Bhakti Café in New York, then as a prep cook at Peacefoods Café, Pure Food and Wine, and Organic Avenue. My introduction to the Blue Hill and Stone Barns family was as a line cook at Blue Hill in NYC. I decided to enroll in NGI’s Chef’s Training Program and became a farming apprentice at the Stone Barns Center shortly thereafter. Eventually, a management position opened up and now here I am.

What are your day-to-day responsibilities as Vegetable Manager?

I co-manage an 8-acre vegetable field with two 7-year crop rotations and over 400 varieties of plants. This week, my co-manager, our two field apprentices, and a handful of interns are preparing the land with tractors and hand tools, and studying the soil to apply the proper amendments before the major summer crops are planted. It’s been a wet spring so it takes a great deal of understanding for when it’s the right time to bring in and operate heavy equipment in a wet space and how to care for the soil so the plants and soil can have a healthy relationship that provides excellent food.

I also manage the educational opportunities in the 8-acre field so I help train our apprentices and interns, and teach students and the public about our farm’s innovations and unique approach. Stone Barns is a non-profit education center so we have the flexibility to experiment with and test new tools and crops.

How does your education at Natural Gourmet Institute help you in this position?

Training as a chef helps you understand taste and what chefs are looking for. This helps me better articulate my opinion about vegetables. NGI also exposed me to a variety of culinary concepts and theories that I integrate into my everyday teaching. Understanding the fundamentals of macrobiotic or Ayurvedic philosophies, for instance, is a perfect example for how to think about the natural world and apply it to food. The five elemental theory in macrobiotics represents the elements that I work with every day.

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What is your favorite part about working at Stone Barns?

Working outside on a beautiful farm, every day, is fun. I can feel my body adjust with the seasons. This makes me feel more in touch with life. It makes me feel more in touch with myself. I don’t think there’s anything more important than that.

What changes can the general public make to contribute to a more sustainable food system?

We need to support our small farmers. We need to be willing to pay more for food that is grown with a lot of love and care. Many organic farmers work a regular 80-hour week to serve and nurture their communities and the earth. It is really difficult to make a living as an organic farmer. Holding multiple jobs is pretty common. Every food decision we make matters. Continuing to increase the demand for food from local farms will ultimately increase the supply of farmers and hopefully make it easier for us to maintain a living.

What practical advice can you share to help people make better choices when purchasing food?

Be inquisitive about what you’re putting into your body. It’s easy to become a slave to convenience. There are lots of farmers markets in New York City and most urban areas now. There’s even online farmers markets. Use them. Learn about what’s in season and ask questions. Build relationships with your farmers just like you would build a relationship with your teachers or doctors. Visit their farms and connect to where your food is being grown. Buying ‘sustainably-raised’ poultry is one thing. Seeing it being slaughtered is another. Food is an everyday decision. Trust what the earth is giving you; it’s been around for a lot longer.