A Food-Driven Mission With a Sustainable Method

Our partnership with Stone Barns Center is based on our shared dedication to healthy, sustainable food for all.

Stone Barns
Jill Isenbarger, Stone Barns CEO

Earlier this year, we began a partnership with Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture to support their high school education program because their goals for the future of food in our country align so closely with our goals. Thanks to the Unilever Sustainable Living Plan, we’re focused on improving nutrition, sustainable sourcing and creating more inclusive business, and we’re proud to have Stone Barns Center as a partner.

It may not be obvious, but ground-up solutions to better nutrition, sustainable sourcing and inclusive business can all be traced back to the farm. If there’s one thing we’ve learned while pursuing our sustainability plan, it’s the expanding ripple effects that small actions can have. 

Leading the charge as the head of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is CEO Jill Isenbarger. When talking to Jill about her mindset, conservation efforts, and her hopes for the future, it’s clear that Jill and Stone Barns share our ethos, and strive to make a big impact. 

Can you sum up the essence of the Stone Barns mission and mindset?

We believe that good food, grown well, can change the world. Much of today’s agriculture causes a lot of environmental damage—water pollution, soil erosion, greenhouse gas emissions, as well as health problems like obesity and type 2 diabetes. 

Our mission is to help create a healthy and sustainable food system by increasing both the supply and demand for food grown with respect for the earth.

Stone Barns Center

What does your day to day as the Stone Barns CEO entail?

Most of my days involve conversations with farmers, engineers, policy makers, chefs, conservationists, educators, doctors, donors and partners in an effort to bring about a more sustainable way of farming and eating in this country. 

At Stone Barns, I spend time with our farmers to get a better understanding of how our seed trials and experiments can help advance biodiversity and healthy competition in the seed industry. 

I meet with our farm apprentices to chat about their goals and challenges as they look beyond their training at Stone Barns. 

What attracted you to the Stone Barns approach and what is the right way to address the problems in our current food system?

Before Stone Barns, I worked in conservation at The Nature Conservancy, and at its core, Stone Barns Center is a conservation organization.  Conservation success comes when people who rely on land and water for their livelihood – watermen in the Chesapeake Bay, for instance – are invested in the long-term health of those lands and waters. 

Our farmers are the best land stewards I’ve ever known. They are building resiliency by building strong soils. With our partner, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, we shape their offerings into delicious things to eat, and this food makes a tangible connection between people and planet. 

What are some solutions you’ve explored for addressing the difficulty or high cost of eating and obtaining fresh food in some areas?

At Stone Barns Center, we train beginning farmers in agroecological practices in an effort to increase the number of small and medium-sized farms providing local foods. 

We are working with partners to create an infrastructure to support a regional food system that would make local food more accessible.  We also educate the public about eating seasonal, well-grown and whole foods: In our high school education program, we teach students about the food system and also how to cook—the fundamentals, yes, but also how to use the entire vegetable or animal, rather than buying pieces of them or wasting edible parts.

If you buy a whole chicken, it will be cheaper and you can get many more meals out of it. Our farmers show students how to break down a chicken and our educators show them how to get the most out of it – right down to cooking soup with the bones. 

Ultimately, we want to see a food system that makes good food, grown well, available to all.

How did the high school education program start and how did Stone Barns Center bring it into schools? What are your hopes for the program going forward?

After a decade of working with K-12 students and their teachers, including many very young children, Stone Barns Center had the opportunity to develop an in-school food education program specifically for high school students. This is an age group that is primed to make change as they are on the cusp of adulthood and independence. 

We wanted something unique that moved beyond nutrition and calorie counting, something that uses food as a portal through which to explore critical issues in science, ecology, health, and justice. 

Under these course themes, we teach students to think creatively and discuss the intricacies of our current food system, explore real-world applications of science, gain food knowledge and acquire cooking skills.

This program has the potential to reach and impact millions of young adults across the country. We have had tremendous success with the program in NYC schools to the point where alumni of the program are now studying food and agriculture in college and beyond.

• Read more about the Stone Barns High School Education Program

How does working for an organization focused on doing good socially motivate you?

The two most important issues of our time are climate change and how we will feed ourselves in this changing world. Too often, they get short shrift. 

Both issues affect our common future. Will we continue to push industrial, input-intensive, massive-monoculture systems? Or will we turn to building diversified local and regional food systems based on the health of people, communities, lands and waters? 

The choices we make now can lead to an extraordinary future. By farming for and eating good food, grown well – with respect for the earth, animals and people – we can sow diversity, resilience and regeneration. That’s why Stone Barns Center exists: to be a laboratory for learning about and demonstrating agroecological farming, and for catalyzing a culture of eating based on ecosystem health. 

It is a great privilege and an intellectual challenge to work on such pressing issues. Getting to do so with amazing farmers, chefs, thought leaders and others on this journey is an added bonus, and gives me hope for the future.

Part of the plan for the future

We know this program has the potential to create positive change throughout our food system, and we’re excited to help share it with the change makers of tomorrow, high school students across the country. With partners like Stone Barns and leaders like Isenbarger, we’re excited about expanding education about smart food choices, and for the extended impact this can have for the future.

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