Chefs Embracing Healthy Soil is a Cause for Celebration

Serena Unger

Earlier this year, I was at a conference in Silicon Valley learning about the world where "tech" meets "ag." This is a world that often seems far from what my work at American Farmland Trust. 

As I sat through a gamut of presentations on technology innovations in irrigation and food waste systems, bio-informatics and the internet of food, I couldn't help but notice a glaring omission of topics: the protection of the land itself. I felt a yearning to hold up a flag and remind people of something very fundamental: that we would have nothing to talk about without protecting our best farm and ranch land, and without healthy soils, we can't feed ourselves! This is at the core of the ever so important work of American Farmland Trust.

I’m compelled to recall this experience during World Soil Day and California Healthy Soils Week because I’m grateful to work at an organization that recognizes the need to protect two of the most fundamental elements of life: the land and the vastly complex world beneath it. At the conference, I found some like-minded people among the attendees who have this topic on top of mind and perhaps even embedded in their hearts—one person being Anthony Myint. 

Anthony is owner and chef of The Perennial, a restaurant in San Francisco that supports farmers and ranchers who employ regenerative practices. But Anthony does more than your run-of-the mill top chef. He also operates the Perennial Farming Initiative, a nonprofit organization that promotes soil health to cutting-edge chefs around the nation and world, educates consumers on carbon farming through farm tours and runs a compost drive that supports carbon ranching. 

With connections to dozens of farmers around California embracing sustainable farming practices, I thought AFT could be a valuable partner in PFI's effort to encourage chefs and consumers to reward farmers for using sustainable practices. This relationship is already bearing fruit. 

Just this week, PFI released its Healthy Soil Guide, a concerted effort by chefs to improve the food system by supporting healthy soil. Utilizing AFT's Stewardship Profiles, a portfolio of 65+ outstanding real-world examples of California specialty crop farmers that are gold star environmental stewards, AFT is helping PFI make connections to soil conscious farmers throughout California.

An excellent example of one of the farms that will be included in an upcoming version of the Healthy Soil Guide is Fortunate Farm. Located on the beautiful Mendocino coast, farmer Gowan Baptist uses sustainable farming methods such as swale contour beds to improve water storage and protect against erosion. Rotational grazing naturally adds sheep manure to the soil and increases soil fertility, eliminating the need to manually add manure to the soil.

Ultimately, celebrating World Soil Day is celebrating the stories of farmers and families that have undertaken significant efforts to increase on-farm conservation practices. AFT is happy to see the Healthy Soil Guide bring the Farm-to-Fork movement to another level by letting consumers celebrate this every day, recognizing that the soil is a life-giving force that grows the food to sustain us.