Cuisine to Cultivar: Row 7 Seed Company Profile

Meet Row 7 Seed, a growing company that’s redefining how organic produce should taste.

| Summer 2019

Founders Matthew Goldfarb, Michael Mazourek, and Dan Barber.
Courtesy of Row 7 Seed Company

Have you heard of the Honeynut squash? At the request of chef Dan Barber, Michael Mazourek, an associate professor in plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University, began to breed this better butternut in 2009. Although not the initial goal, he packed the squash with nutrients, reduced its size, and made its skin thinner for easier preparation. First and foremost, Mazourek crafted this new breed to improve its flavor.

No more than half the size of its butternut predecessor, Honeynut is compact and undiluted by water, so it packs a much stronger punch when it comes to taste. This small squash has such a rich taste — vibrant, smooth, sweet, and nutty — that you might imagine it’s topped with brown butter or maple syrup. And while the squash is now beloved by chefs and growers, Barber and Mazourek originally feared that this wouldn’t be the case. Gardeners, cooks, and consumers alike (particularly in the United States) lean toward a more rigid view of what produce should look like. If something new varies too much from the expected standard, consumers grow wary. And if there’s no easily discernible market for a seed, no company will want to produce it.

So how do you reconcile the idea of breeding better crops with the possibility that sellers won’t be interested in your product? Simple: You start your own company. Thus, with the help of seedsman Matthew Goldfarb, Row 7 Seed Company was born.

Cultivating Community and Cuisine

The idea for a business rooted in the collaboration between plant breeders, gardeners, and chefs sprang directly from that initial conversation between Barber and Mazourek, as the challenge of the Honeynut squash was the first time Mazourek had been asked to breed a plant for flavor. “That conversation launched years of experiments in the kitchen and the field,” Barber says. “The idea of Row 7 was to formalize this work and expand it, bringing chefs and breeders together to develop new cultivars and — we hope — create a more delicious food system.” Today, Row 7 works alongside a community of more than 70 chefs and their partnering growers, and they want to continue to promote the conversations between cooks and breeders across the U.S.

This goal includes specifically breeding plants for flavor, of course, but also experimenting with how these new breeds grow and adapt in different regions, and how they fit into varying cuisines. “Great ingredients are not just about a plant’s genetics, but also its environment — how it interacts with the soil, the microclimate, even specific culinary techniques,” Barber says. And all the while, Row 7 and their growers ensure that their new breeds don’t lose their essential nutrients.



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