Chef Dan Barber and his brother David spent their childhood summers working on Blue Hill Farm, the 138-acre Great Barrington, Massachusetts property acquired by their grandmother Ann Marlowe Straus in the 1960s.
When Straus was young, the farm was a dairy run by two brothers. She used to tell her grandsons, “I loved the open pastures, I loved the backdrop of blue hills, I loved that I felt like a queen every time I came up here.”
Eventually she achieved her dream of buying the farm, and she converted it into a cattle-grazing operation. Straus was a strong believer in the importance of land preservation and the connection between great farming and delicious food. This belief was passed down to her grandsons and became the inspiration behind the food served at Blue Hill, Dan and David’s Manhattan restaurant, and Blue Hill at Stone Barns, their restaurant located on a farm and education center in upstate New York.
In 2004 Dan and David decided to reestablish Blue Hill Farm in its original form, recruiting local farmer Sean Stanton to manage the land. Today, the farm is once again home to a vibrant population of chickens, pigs, dairy cows, and laying hens. Blue Hill Farm supplies the restaurants with vegetables, grass-fed meats, and fresh milk.
For their restaurants, the Barbers source ingredients such as vegetables, grass-fed meats, and fresh milk from Blue Hill farm and other local farmers. Thus, it’s no surprise that they were careful to choose growers committed to high-quality organic farming when developing their own products under the Blue Hill label.
One such partnership is with Klaas and Mary-Howell Martens, farmers of 1,400 rolling acres in Penn Yan, New York, who utilize crop rotation and careful soil management to ensure resistance to pests and disease and to build flavor in their products. They are the growers behind our heirloom grains from Blue Hill, golden yellow and packed with the aroma of freshly picked sweet corn — minus the cloying sweetness.
There is a saying at Blue Hill: Know Thy Farmer. Dan, David and the rest of the team live by the adage that “great cooking starts with great ingredients, and great ingredients start with great farmers.” The Barbers have long been inspired by the farms and farmers who inspire their menus and products, and turning their attention to grains was a natural progression of the Blue Hill philosophy.
The vast majority of farmland in the United States is used to grow grains, but as Dan says, “We cook and bake with the flour-equivalent of rotten produce—stripped of all flavor and nutrition.” Using carefully sourced, heirloom grains, and even milling them into fresh flour, means rediscovering the taste of grain.
About the author: Olivia Terenzio grew up in Mississippi, where she cultivated a love of sweet potatoes, crawfish and cloth napkins at a young age. A passion for sharing food with friends and family led her into the kitchen and later to culinary school, where she learned how to roast a chicken and decorate a cake like a pro. As a Williams-Sonoma blog editor, she’s now lucky enough to be talking, writing and thinking about food all day.