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Generation Next: Ark Foods founder unafraid to break the mold, pursue his dreams

GenerationNextROBBISAlways exploring. Constantly curious. These are words to live by for Noah Robbins, a self-described “still 26” year-old with a clear vision about his world.

Robbins is the founder, chief executive officer and sole proprietor of Ark Foods, a company that was only a concept just four short years ago.

The company’s website is a direct reflection of Robbins’ own epicurious style of life. “Ark Foods grows vegetables that make you take a second look. Produce that makes you pause … ponder … and maybe even ask ‘what the #@*! is that?!’ and ‘what does it taste like?!”GenerationNextROBBINSNoah Robbins, founder, chief executive officer and sole proprietor of Ark Foods, enjoys some down time playing jazz guitar.

It was the shishito pepper, a variety that hipsters and nonhipsters alike are raving about, that assumed the role of muse and put a fine point on the company’s creation. Today, Ark Foods has shishito growing operations in upstate New York, Long Island and Florida. Robbins sees no limitations to the company’s future potential to bring the unknown and exciting to America’s dinner plate.

Robbins is coffeehouse conversational when he talks about the things that make him tick. He was born in New York City but grew up in the suburbs. He loves visual art and plays jazz guitar. He sees agriculture and fresh produce as a bold and exciting frontier.

In short, he is an original. Three adjectives summing up his personality are hungry (“I’m a food junkie”), curious (“I don’t believe in the status quo”) and intense (“If I want to go for this, I should”).

The details of his college studies not only reinforce this fact, but also provide insights as ways in which he pursues his dreams.

For example, here’s a simple statement from Robbins: “I was a college scholar,” he told The Produce News.

Two deceptively simple words — college scholar — tell us a host of things about this energized young man who attended Cornell University:

“The College Scholar program exists because the faculty in Arts & Sciences want to provide a very unusual intellectual niche in addition to the regular departmental majors and the independent major program for students who are passionately focused on a particular type of problem, issue or singular aspect of a larger field,” according to the Cornell website. “Sometimes that ‘crux’ is very multidisciplinary in its nature, or sometimes it is particularly narrow within its discipline. The program can be useful to different students with different purposes: to explore subjects with a broader integration of related disciplines than most students would attempt, to develop a narrow aspect of an interdisciplinary field, or to pursue a subject in which they are unusually advanced.”

“[The program] allows you to create your own major,” Robbins explained. “The only real requirement was that you write a thesis in your senior year.”

By selecting much of the curriculum he pursued during the next four years, Robbins eventually graduated with a bachelor of fine art degree in art/architecture and planning.

Robbins studied jazz guitar at the Manhattan School of Music prior to entering Cornell. Though he doesn’t currently play with a band, music is still a passion, and Robbins continues to play guitar and a little bass and piano.

He worked in a fine art gallery in New York at the same time his father oversaw the operations of a large orange grove in Florida.

“I saw the potential to grow and shadowed dad trying to learn as much as I could,” he said. “I learned what it takes to really start a farm.”

He jumped into Ark Foods with both eyes open. Asked if the prospect made him feel uneasy, he didn’t hesitate with his response.

“I would have to be a fool if I wasn’t scared,” he replied. “But this is the time to be adventurous and strike out.” As for his friends who have long associations with agriculture and their reaction to his new business, he said, “They think it’s great and crazy.”

Robbins has a strong vision about the role food plays in everyday life. “There’s something really powerful about getting people to change the way they eat their vegetables” he said of Ark’s mission.

His sense of potential hasn’t stopped with the formation of Ark Foods. “It’s a dream of mine to have an office where music and exhibits happen,” he explained.

Robbins isn’t 24/7 serious; he ‘fesses up to the lighter side of things. “If the world has a potato chip, I’ve tried it,” he laughed. “Once my aunt gave me a two-year membership to a Chip of the Month Club.”