When you think of a radical center of agricultural change, New York City isn’t exactly what comes to mind. The largest city in the country, and one of the largest in the world, New York has a population density somewhere in the neighborhood of 28,000 per square mile. It’s the very definition of urban.

But if you scope out the metropolis on Google Earth, you’ll notice a large, undeveloped swath of green a mere 30 miles north of downtown Manhattan. It was here that John D. Rockefeller, then the richest man in America, carved out an enormous estate, centered on an opulent mansion.

Eliot Coleman and Jack Algiere workshop at Young Farmers Conference_photo by Erik Jacobs

Photo by Erik Jacobs

Rockefeller built his fortune on oil, and he is preeminent among the capitalists who ushered in the era of fossil fuels. Agriculture, like every other aspect of our world, was radically reshaped by petroleum, and farmers spent a century using ever-larger gas-powered machines, along with chemical inputs, to bring more and more land under cultivation.

A hundred years later, of course, we know that the miraculous power of petroleum comes with some very costly side effects, like pollution and a changing impact on our climate. And farmers are rethinking their approach as these effects become eminently clear.

It is fitting, then, that 80 acres of the former Rockefeller estate are devoted to a new, radical, post-oil agricultural experiment to “create a healthy and sustainable food system that benefits us all.” That’s the mission of the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, an organization founded by descendants of the oil tycoon in 2004.

Farmers in workshop_photo by Erik Jacobs

Photo by Erik Jacobs

In practice, Stone Barns’s mission takes the form of several different programs, all centered on a working vegetable/animal farm. The farm supplies a CSA and an on-farm restaurant, Blue Hill, which features a seasonal menu. The farm also serves as an experimental research station to pioneer sustainable practices in collaboration with universities, seed companies and farmers. Finally, Stone Barns serves as an educational center through programming for school children and beginning farmers.

The farm’s proximity to 30 million people gives its organizers a unique advantage in fulfilling its mission. Since its founding, the farm has trained 2,500 beginning farmers, served 60,000 students through its educational programs, and provided more than a million visitors with a hands-on education about where their food comes from.

Young Farmers Conference Field Workshop_photo by Erik Jacobs

Photo by Erik Jacobs

The idea behind all these activities, says noted farm activist, farmer, and board president Fred Kirschenmann, is to learn to “adapt and become partners with nature, rather than trying to control nature.”

This seemingly simple premise, in practice, has a complex and wide-reaching impact. By changing how we eat, the organization maintains, we can also change some of the most pressing legacies of the fossil fuel era: soil degradation, water pollution and overuse, obesity and poor nutrition, and the impact on our climate.

Organic Valley is committed to building a healthy and sustainable food system and is proud to support Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in its efforts.