Concerns about what we put in our mouths are multiplying. Is the food healthy? Does it contain unnecessary enhancers? Were pesticides, hormones, or antibiotics involved in its production? Was it sustainably sourced and produced in a socially responsible manner? Such questions are complex and can either put us off eating altogether, or they can make us bury our heads in the sand. Yet they reflect some valid worries over the quality of what we eat, and its impact on people and planet. A soon-to-open restaurant in San Francisco is providing customers many of the answers they need, and right under their noses.
Taking its name from the process of carbon sequestration that perennial grasses encourage in soils (a process also known as carbon farming), The Perennial will soon open its doors offering food that champions progressive farming and the power of agriculture to reverse climate change. Through carbon farming, aquaponics and perennial grains this restaurant will be able to provide food with a low ecological footprint:
Carbon farming: this is the practice through which atmospheric CO2 is converted by plants, grasslands, and the managed use of grazing into plant and soil material. As they explain on their website: “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.” The lamb and beef on offer at this restaurant will come from ranches that practice carbon farming, that is, herd grazing is managed so to ensure soil recovery and perennial grasses growth to maximise carbon sequestration, and therefore mitigate climate change.
Aquaponics: a system that integrates plants growth and fish breeding, and in which the fish fertilises the water the plants send their roots into. It is known to promote water conservation, prevent pollution, and, through a closed-loop system they have developed that converts food scraps into food and fish, The Perennial will also be able to reduce their own food waste. While an off-site 2000 ft aquaponic greenhouse and raised beds irrigated with the water from the fish tanks will eventually provide the bulk of the restaurant's fish and vegetable produce, an on-site 'living pantry', with herbs and vegetables as well as an aquarium filled with catfish and sturgeon, will bring aquaponics into sharp focus for customers, while also sparking some interesting conversations on where our food comes from.
Perennial grains: when large swathes of land were cleared of their native perennial grasses to make room for wheat, corn or soybeans crops, the CO2 stored in the soil was released into the atmosphere. Over the last decades, much research has gone into finding ways of restoring land ecosystems and promoting the carbon-sink role of soil. Kernza, a perennial grain that can be milled into flour and used as an alternative to conventional wheat flour, has been developed by traditional breeding methods by The Land Institute.
Thanks to its deep root structure supporting carbon-storing bacteria, insects and worms, Kernza is essentially a super-grain when it comes to soil-restoring and carbon capture properties. The Perennial will be the first restaurant to serve bread made from Kernza, bringing this little-known ecosystem-loving wheat alternative to the public.
What the team behind The Perennial has been gearing up towards is nothing short of visionary – and while not every restaurateur might be able to go to such lengths in championing a more sustainable food system, much more can still be done by the sector to improve on its green credentials and to be able to respond to growing customer expectations.