I wasn't actually “born and raised” in California, but I sure come close. My family moved to LA when I was a newborn, and that's where I stayed for my first 18 years, and at this point I've lived nearly that long in the Bay Area. But it’s been years and years since I felt this level of California pride, because I’m working with some amazing leaders in the state government to take action on climate change with a program we’re calling Restore California.
The idea is that restaurants and diners can help draw down CO2 by building healthy soil on farms and ranches around California, which means we’re not only drawing down CO2 but also improving flavor, nutrition, and resilience in our food system. This project, which is a collaboration between my non-profit, The Perennial Farming Initiative, CalEPA (specifically CARB), and CA’s Dept of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), builds on the work that PFI does with its Zero Foodprint program, which has been helping restaurants achieve carbon neutrality since 2015. Whereas ZFP restaurants go through a full life cycle assessment, however, restaurants in the Restore CA program can simply add 1% to customers’ bills and pay that money into a Healthy Soil Carbon Fund that we are developing as a complement to the state’s existing Healthy Soils Program. Participation is voluntary by restaurants, and customers can opt out with a simple comment to a server, but 1% really does feel like a manageable amount. At Mission Chinese, we’ve been road-testing the idea for a few months, and no one has ever objected. (Though they probably will now that we’re getting more press.)
All of this Restore CA planning feels pretty exciting, and a confirmation of our decision to close The Perennial Restaurant and focus on The Perennial Farming Initiative. Instead of asking each restaurant (or individual, or giant food business) to change their habits fast enough to really move the needle, we’re just getting right into the main busines of putting carbon back in the soil, where it belongs. We’re thinking of it along the line of renewable energy: instead of waiting for every homeowner to install solar panels, there is now an option to engage in a renewable grid, and Restore CA will offer a counterpart in the food sector.
But why stop at California? We started here because we live here, and the state represents the fifth largest economy in the world, but there’s no reason that other states can’t do the same. Looking forward to the day when people across the country come together to work on a solution, not just in “lefty” California, but across the United States. Wouldn’t that be something?