When we started working on The Perennial, we expected that reducing our fossil fuel use would be the most important action we could take. But as we learned, agriculture accounts for about 30% of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, and farming has been a source of greenhouse gas ever since its invention about 10,000 years ago, when humans began clearing forests and plowing the land, which releases carbon dioxide from the soil into the air.
The good news is that agriculture can become part of the solution to climate change.
After several years of experimentation, scientists and farmers have found that a concerted campaign of “carbon farming” — the practice of converting carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into plant material and soil matter — can dramatically reduce emissions and revolutionize the way we farm.
As a plant grows, it takes in carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and breaks it into carbon (C), which builds cells, and oxygen (O2), which is released as a waste product. Trees and deep-rooted plants like perennial grasses store more carbon than shallow plants because their longer roots are surrounded by a nutrient-rich region of soil where microorganisms convert CO2 into organic matter in a process called soil carbon sequestration. We can jump-start this process by spreading grasslands with a layer of compost, which seeds the soil with good microorganisms, resulting in more soil carbon sequestration.
Herd animals like cattle and sheep contribute their own manure (along with some microorganisms) to the soil, while their hooves push the manure and compost into the earth, promoting soil carbon sequestration. Moving livestock from one field to another in tight groups, so that each field is grazed intensively and then allowed to recover, further encourages the growth of deep perennial roots. The plants that are trimmed through grazing shed root matter below the surface, which becomes fodder for bacteria to accomplish even more soil carbon sequestration. The livestock are also managed to eat away annual grasses that bloom on a different schedule than perennial grasses, further encouraging carbon sequestration.
This process, and its potential to reverse climate change, inspired us to name our restaurant The Perennial. We are proud to serve beef and lamb from Stemple Creek Ranch, raised as part of a carbon farming project. Our chef, Chris Kiyuna, receives whole lambs and sides of beef from Stemple Creek and develops the most appropriate preparation for every part of the animals.
In an era of dire warnings from climate science, carbon farming offers an optimistic breath of fresh air.