The Ivy League Vegetable Farmer

Davis Lindsey’s path from the Baltimore suburbs to Yale University to a farm in New York’s Westchester County seems like it was almost predestined.

(Photo: Annabel Braithwaite for Belathée Photography)

A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

If, as the saying goes, the journey is as important as the destination, Davis Lindsey is off to one heck of a good start.

The 27-year-old Baltimore, Maryland, native was raised in the suburbs, but his great-grandfather was a farmer in a large agricultural region located on the eastern shore of the state and his father also grew up in the area. During his own youth, Lindsey worked on a farm belonging to one of his high school teachers.

Then things started to get interesting.

“I went to an all-boys school and played lacrosse, which ultimately led me to enroll at Yale University,” says Lindsey. “Like a lot of kids these days I didn’t really know what to expect out of college, and while I was there, I was playing lacrosse and trying to figure out my major. I ended up gravitating toward environmental science, which is a pretty interdisciplinary degree at Yale.”

While studying agriculture, primarily from a policy perspective, Lindsey got involved with Yale’s Sustainable Food Project, a group that was the brainchild of Alice Waters, the well-known chef and owner of Chez Panisse. Waters became interested in the food culture at Yale in 2001 after her daughter, Fanny Singer, enrolled at the university.

In quick succession, Lindsey followed up with a research project overseen by the Ministry of Agriculture in Belize (as part of a Students for International Training abroad program), a senior thesis project on biofuels done in connection with The Nature Conservancy and the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, a post-graduation job with the Rocky Mountain Institute, and a stint farming at Northfordy Farm in Northford, Connecticut.

But the big city was beckoning—sort of.

“When I moved to New York City I wanted to get more directly involved with food and agriculture and there was no better way to actually do that than to start cooking,” says Lindsey. He enrolled at the Natural Gourmet Institute, a culinary school whose primary focus is health-based cooking (he graduates today). He also worked at an Indian cafe in the East Village, as well as Pure Food and Wine, a raw-food organic restaurant, before he was hired at Blue Hill. The Greenwich Village restaurant, helmed by chef Dan Barber, showcases local food and sources ingredients come from nearby farms.

In addition to the city restaurant, Blue Hill has another restaurant at the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills, about 30 miles north of New York City. The center is a non-profit organization that a runs a working farm and oversees the Growing Farmers Initiative, a year-round training program for beginning farmers. “As soon as I got involved with Blue Hill, I knew I wanted to start farming at the center in addition to cooking,” says Lindsey.

His wish is about to come true.

“Starting May 15, I’ll be farming vegetables in the fields at Stone Barns for six months and after that I’ll move into their greenhouse for another six months. I’m a vegetarian, so I wanted to focus on growing vegetables as opposed to working with livestock. And that’s also where all my experience has been ever since I was growing up.”

“At Stone Barns there’s an emphasis on education; it really is at the forefront of their mission,” says Lindsey, “and that’s why I wanted to be associated with them and learn from them. Coming from Yale and being an environmental science major I think there’s a lot of potential to integrate food and agriculture into environmental science in a way that a lot of college policy programs aren’t able to do.”

Lindsey’s goal is to hopefully obtain a position teaching environmental science at a high school that has its own farm, and to try and use the farm as a living library for his science classes. “I think high schoolers are a lot more moldable in terms how they see the world and perhaps a little more moldable in terms of how they can incorporate the farm-to-table vision into their lifestyle rather than as just a cool idea.”

It’s an exciting and ambitious goal, and one that his great-grandfather would certainly be proud of.

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