Dan Barber's New Company Sells Seeds Bred for Deliciousness

When a tasty vegetable doesn’t exist, just invent it yourself.

By Ethan L. Johns
February 28, 2018

Image: Row7

What’s a chef to do when the vegetable they seek doesn’t exist? Why, they place a custom order!

Dan Barber, chef at New York’s vegetable-centric Blue Hill at Stone Barns restaurant, has become known for his incessant quest to find the best raw product. Now, along with breeder Michael Mazourek and seedsman Matthew Goldfarb, Barber has launched Row7—a seed company—that brings the literal fruits of his labor to market for everyday consumers.

Row7—named after the originally-blank seventh row of the periodic table of elements—opened its web shop for business on Tuesday, where it sells non-GMO, USDA-certified organic, unpatented seeds. The seeds seem expensive at first glance (as much as $4.95 for 12 seeds), but they are priced to support the researchers that bred them. For the time being, all profits will be funneled back to the researchers.

The company was conceived from Barber’s relationship with Mazourek, a plant breeding professor at Cornell University. When Barber asked Mazourek for a smaller, more flavorful butternut squash, Mazourek showed him the Honeynut—a six-inch squash produced through years of cross-pollinating.

While the Honeynut isn’t one of the varieties available on the site now, customers will find Robin’s Koginut Squash (which turns from green to orange to indicate that it’s ripe), the Butternut 661 (a larger version of the Honeynut) and an experimental variety that can fit in the palm of your hand. The other curious crosses include the Habanada Pepper that lacks the habanero heat, a Badger Flame beet with brilliantly marbled orange-and-white flesh, an experimental cucumber that tastes like something other than water and an Upstate Abundance Potato so creamy that it doesn’t need butter.

In addition to being part of Barber’s search for flavor, the project is also a repudiation of industrial agriculture, its scope and its deleterious effects on crop diversity.

“The big seed companies are interested in a seed that works in New York, and in Southern California, and Texas, and Canada, and Mexico, and China,” Barber told Forbes. “But that isn’t the way biology works. That’s not what chefs want. And it’s not what, increasingly, a growing sector of the food culture wants, and are willing to pay a little bit more for.”

So if you have a green thumb and are looking for some springtime excitement when it comes to your garden, check these seeds out. They’re even unpatented, so you can save seeds and even use the hybrids to create your own crosses.

Now that’s what we call meal customization.

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About Ethan L. Johns

Ethan is the Food News Writer at Genius Kitchen. An expert on the Parisian bistrot, he likes bitters and salted butters, and is no fan of dessert unless it's made with fruit. His hobbies include reading up on the history of borscht and attempting to roll perfect couscous by hand. Twits & Instagram @EthanLJohns