News & Views

Row 7 / Cutting edge veg

by Contagious I/O

This story originally appeared on Contagious I/O, our intelligence tool featuring the most creative and effective ideas in marketing from around the world 

Seed company connects chefs with farmers to develop new vegetable varieties

Veg

New York company Row 7 is working with both chefs and farmers to develop and market new types of vegetables.

The newly-founded business sells seeds that have been specially designed to produce new varieties of vegetables and grains. Its Badger Flame Beets (pictured below), for example, have all the usual sweetness of a beetroot, without any of the earthy flavour, and its Habanada Peppers taste like habanero chillies, but without any spice.

Row

Usually plant breeders change the traits of crops to encourage higher yields, longer shelf life and greater uniformity. Row 7’s breeders prioritise deliciousness – and use controlled cross-pollination to achieve it.

The process is entirely natural, the seeds are certified organic and non-GMO. Row 7 also doesn’t patent its seed recipes, so anyone with the right skills can replicate them.

Corn

Created by chef Dan Barber, breeder Michael Mazourek, and seedsman Matthew Goldfarb, Row 7’s aim is to build a global community of chefs and growers.

Barber’s mission, according to Quartz, is to ‘convince Americans to change the way they eat in the interest of long-term ecological sustainability — a mission that can only be accomplished if vegetables that actually taste good are widely available at the grocery store’. To do this, Row 7 needs as many people to get involved as possible.

Farm

Dozens of chefs and farmers have already joined the Row 7 community, meaning they are growing and cooking with these new plant varieties. They include Mashama Bailey, executive chef at restaurant the Grey in Savannah, Georgia. The New York Times reports that Bailey was first drawn to the company’s work because of a special variety of squash that Mazourek ‘bred to have stems that taste too good to throw away’.

By altering the taste of plants, Row 7 could cut down food waste (if stems, skin and seeds are too tasty to throw away) and aid nutrition. One of the seeds the company currently sells is for the Upstate Abundance Potato, which the company describes as ‘creamy, nutty and buttery (even without the butter)’ – so would be a much healthier alternative to Jersey Royals coated in butter.

Kale

Row 7 also explains that ‘when you select for flavour, you’re most likely selecting for nutrition, too. Flavour and aroma compounds — the same ones that make tomatoes so mouth-watering — often derive from essential nutrients. It’s nature’s way of telling us what we should be eating.’ So the startup’s tastier variations are potentially more nutritious than their supermarket-standard counterparts (even without factoring in the butter).

The price of Row 7’s seeds varies from $3.50 for 100 seeds to $4.95 for just 12. That might seem ambitiously expensive, considering you can buy 100 bog-standard beetroot seeds on Amazon for just over $1, but the company has already had tremendous interest from chefs who are key influencers in the food world.

‘The Honeynut could not have happened without chefs,’ Barber told The New York Times, referring to a winter squash variety that he and Mazourek worked together to develop eight years ago. ‘They Instagrammed it, they talked about it, it was on their menus, and it went from zero to 60.’ And he is betting on that same momentum to drive Row 7’s new seed varieties.

Squash

As these new vegetables gain traction, they will open up new ways for restaurants and food retailers to spice up their offering (As Barber told The New York Times: ‘Part of the goal of the company is not only to increase the flavour of vegetables: It’s to look at how we, as chefs, can change the culture of eating’).

There are only seven seed types on offer at the moment, but as more farmers, chefs and breeders get involved that number is bound to increase. Brands of all types could get involved by commissioning breeders to develop vegetable varieties for specific campaigns or products. Moleskine could develop exclusive ingredients to serve in its cafés, for example, or Patagonia could create a super-sustainable sweet potato - and I’m sure Pornhub could think of something aubergine-related.