A farm-to-kitchen approach towards eliminating food waste

  • General view of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., on April 17, 2015. Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is a non-profit farm and education center devoted to sustainable agriculture.
  • (L) Jacob Kose is a 2015 field apprentice at Stone Barns. During every season of the year Stone Barns offers full-time educational apprenticeships and they receive a living stipend to teach young people the responsibilities and knowledge it takes to run a farm. (R) A tractor sits on the grounds of Stone Barns. The property spans over 80 acres and encompasses a working farm, educational center, and expansive greenhouse.
 
 
  • A worker’s hands are seen in the soil at Stone Barns. The animal rotations on the farm help preserve the soil and protect against the need for pesticides and herbicides. The primary supplement to the soil is their own nutrient-rich compost.
  • Produce is pictured in the greenhouse at Stone Barns. The 22,000-square-foot greenhouse preserves its seasonal crops by utilizing temperature sensors that open and close the roof in order to maintain comfortable conditions throughout the year.
  • (L) Chickens at Stone Barns are seen in their coop. The pasture-raised egg layers at the farm are a hybrid mix of mostly Rhode Island Red chickens. (R) A chef works in the kitchen of Blue Hill at Stone Barns. 
  • Jack Algiere, the Four-Season Farm Director in charge of the growing operations at Stone Barns, is seen in the greenhouse. “I have a responsibility as a local farmer to produce food that is healthy, accessible and respectful of the local ecology,” Algiere said to msnbc.
  • (L) A worker tends to the grounds of Stone Barns. (R) Plated produce is seen growing. Stone Barns grows 500 varieties of flowers, herbs and produce each year.
 
  • Grains for “Rotation Risotto” sit on the table. The inspiration for Dan Barber’s signature dish came about ten years ago when he started using local emmer flour grown by New York farmer Klaas Martens. When Barber visited Klaas on his farm he had an epiphany. “Klaas didn’t show me a single wheat field. Instead, he showed me all the crops that prepare the soil for his wheat. There was millet, oats, barley, buckwheat, mustard plants, and beans. All of these crops were there to perform very specific functions on the farm: The beans gave the soil nitrogen; the barley was there to build soil structure; the mustard plants were there to cleanse the soil of diseases.” Each plant was planted in a timed sequence throughout the seasons, creating a rotation that not only ensured the health of the soil, but also gave the wheat its amazing flavor.”
  • Armando Olivarez, a Sous Chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, is seen slow roasting a pig on the grill at Blue Hill at Stone Barns.  ”Chefs can have enormous influence, creating trends that trickle down even to almost every level of the food chain,” Dan Barber said in an interview with msnbc. “Why not use that leverage to kickstart a conversation regarding our culture of cooking and eating?”
  • Onion planting, flower seedlings and spring garlic are pictured being grown on the grounds of Stone Barns. “At Stone Barns, we believe the key is diversification, so there is less waste from inputs and product,” says Jack Algiere, the four-season farm director in charge of the growing operations at Stone Barns, adding that the key to improving our food system begins with knowing the problem at hand. “Awareness. There are many steps after that to make the change, but awareness comes first.”
 
 
  • Livestock apprentice Kevin Dunham shears a finn-dorset sheep at Stone Barns, April 17, 2015.
  • Craig Haney, Livestock Director at Stone Barns, is candling a dewlap toulouse goose egg to check on its development. Stone Barns has been hatching and raising this rare breed of goose for nearly 3 years. Each goose lays seasonally for about 6-8 weeks in the spring and Stone Barns gets approximately 20-30 eggs from each goose.
  • John D. Rockefeller, Jr. originally built the barns and courtyard of Stone Barns Center to serve as a dairy farm. It was passed down to the next generation through his son David Rockefeller who in 2004 established Stone Barns as a non profit organization with his daughter Peggy Dulany in honor of his late wife Peggy, who had been a longtime advocate for farm conservation and preservation. 
  • (L) Michael Gallina, the Blue Hill at Stone Barns Chef de Cuisine, is pictured in the kitchen. (R) A chick is seen at Stone Barns. Along the 80-acres of working farm, Stone Barns raises a colony of animals including broiler chickens, bees, sheep, laying hens, turkeys and pigs.
 
  • (L) Rhode Island Red chickens roam outside on some of the 23 acres of pasture at Stone Barns. (R) Grains get prepared to make “Rotation Risotto” in the kitchen of Blue Hill at Stone Barns.
  • Chefs work in the kitchen of Blue Hill at Stone Barns on April 17, 2015. In an interview with Dan Barber he explained the integration of his work with the Stone Barns Agriculture Center; “Why shouldn’t there be more reciprocity between chef and farmer, where we can influence one another’s decisions in the field and the kitchen to maximize ecology, economy and flavor?” 
  • Armando Olivarez, a Sous Chef at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, is seen outside at the grill. 
  • A chef at Blue Hill prepares “Rotation Risotto.” The signature dish relies upon all of the grain crops, such as millet, oats, and barley that support wheat, rather than wheat itself. Barber explains that after the day at Klaas’s farm he had a moment of realization that lead to the creation of “Rotation Risotto.” “Yes, I had created a market for his local emmer wheat, but I wasn’t doing anything to support the farming system that produced it. In order to truly support a sustainable farmer like Klaas, I realized I needed to change my cooking. I needed to cook with the whole farm—not just the crops I most coveted,” Barber explained to msnbc.
 
  • A member of the Stone Barns staff works in the greenhouse. “Over the past half century, our agricultural system has grown to new levels to feed new populations. However, the speed of growth and development has created many unintended consequences to adapt to such short-term needs. Reintroducing and adapting age-old practices to our farming system has provided lasting value and health,” says Jack Algiere. 
  • “Rotation Risotto” is plated at Blue Hill at Stone Barnes, April 17, 2015.
  • Compost on the farm is seen after Jack Algiere, Four Season Farm Director, was doing work in Stone Barns Center’s compost operation. Typically, compost temperatures exceed 150 degrees. At Stone Barns they have developed systems on the farm to generate consistent radiant heat energy for their greenhouse and other applications.
  • A chicken coop is seen on the grounds of Stone Barns. 

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There is an inherent irony to America’s food waste epidemic: As millions of households live below the poverty line, struggling to put food on the table, nearly 40% of all edible food goes uneaten. That’s approximately $165 billion each year put to waste, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. So while tossing dinner scraps may seem harmless, the reality behind each spoiled vegetable and discarded fruit stem tells a much grimmer backstory — one exposing the face of our food industry today.

Over the past few years, the topic of food waste has gone mainstream, largely due to the critical implications of emerging research. In February, a report by the Waste and Resources Action Program (WRAP) estimated that 3.3 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases are produced when food is taken to landfills. But the environmental issue is compounded by the economic loss. By 2030, as the middle class is projected to expand throughout the developing world, the cost of food waste could balloon to $600 billion yearly, according to the report. 

RELATED: Food waste is a massive problem. Here’s how you can fix it.

For Dan Barber, a chef and co-owner of Blue Hill at Stone Barns, the problem is not only how we dispose of our food, but also, the way we create it in the first place. 

“You can’t address the issue of food waste in America without talking about our system of food production,” Barber said. “Just think about the fact that 99% of the 90 million acres of corn grown in the U.S. does not go to feeding people directly. How much more wasteful can you get?” 

Barber is a well-known crusader of the “whole farm” approach. Rather than relying on the most desired ingredients to cook, he prefers forgotten and auxiliary produce, crafting the menus at Blue Hill to read like road maps of the neighboring farms: What you eat is what they have.

Such a relationship is the backbone of sustainable agriculture. It is also what makes Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, a non-profit farm and educational center in New York’s Hudson Valley, an invaluable resource for Barber. Roughly 70% of what is grown and cultivated at Stone Barn ends up in the kitchen of Blue Hill. According to Jack Algiere, the farm director in charge of the growing operations at Stone Barns, the partnership is mutually beneficial.

“Our CSA is a perfect example of how farmers across the country are communicating directly with their consumers,” Algiere said. “We look at the ecological and social impact of our farming — the big picture.”

Crop rotation, drip irrigation and composting are just a few of the sustainable efforts that Stone Barns implements on site. To Algiere, these practices are not only essential to maintaining the health of the land, but they are crucial for reshaping the way we produce and consume food today. “From an idealist perspective, we can show how to make sustainable agriculture work economically,” he added.

If Stone Barns is a picture of anything, it isn’t waste. Sheep graze throughout the sprawling pasture, while geese, turkeys and pigs patiently wait for their turn on the farm. An animal rotation like this preserves the soil, protecting against the need for pesticides and herbicides, which have become the calling card of the American industrial farmland. Unlike large-scale agriculture, Stone Barns operates as a symphony of parts in support of one another.

And by working closely with Blue Hill, almost nothing is wasted.

“Bones, offal, vegetable cores, leftovers — we have to find a place for these things in our cooking because it doesn’t make sense — ecologically or economically — to throw them away,” Barber said. 

Last month, Barber introduced garbage to the New York City food scene through the highly publicized pop-up, “wastED.” Housed inside Blue Hill in the West Village, the event prized leftovers and food scraps, giving restaurant-goers the chance to embrace waste in every dish. Juice pulp cheeseburgers made an appearance, as did skate wing cartilage and a side of foam made out of chickpea water.

In the past, Barber has referred to the “take more, sell more, waste more” mentality of the American food system. WastED was the opposite of this idea, directing its mission toward “creating something delicious out of the ignored or un-coveted,” according to its website.   

Ideas like wastED and Blue Hill’s partnership with Stone Barns redefine the concept of farm-to-table sustainability, calling into question just how far our food can go. And since eating local does not necessarily mean conserving consciously, Barber and Algiere are working to refine our agriculture from the ground up. That means less waste and more taste — an idea that Barber believes can be “replicated on any scale and adapted to any location.”  

“My goal as a chef is not to point fingers or admonish consumers for being wasteful,” he continued. “It’s to find solutions through good cooking.”

Photographer Nils Ericson spent the day on the grounds of Stone Barns and Blue Hill, documenting the interconnected effort it takes to save more and waste less along each link of the food chain. 

For more feature photography, go to msnbc.com/photography

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