New Healthy Soil Guide Gives Cooks a Better Recipe for Climate Change

This restaurant duo wants to spread the gospel that healthy soil on farms and ranches can play a major role in slowing global warming.

Author: Diana Donlon | Published: December 5, 2017

December 5 marks the United Nations’ World Soil Day, which recognizes the crucial role soil plays in human health, food production, and climate change mitigation. To mark the occasion, Diana Donlon, director of the Center for Food Safety (CFS)’s Soil Solutions program, spoke with Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz, owners of The Perennial Restaurant in San Francisco. The team is launching a Healthy Soil Guide for chefs and home cooks about they can play in promoting healthy soils and climate solutions. CFS has also released a short film today called “Chefs for Soil,” which includes Myint and Leibowitz discussing their climate-friendly restaurant; that film is embedded below.

You’re a couple of city-dwelling restaurateurs with businesses in San Francisco and Manhattan—how did you find out about the connection between healthy soil and a stable climate?

Karen Leibowitz: We’d been working together in the restaurant business for a few years, starting with Mission Chinese Food and Commonwealth, both in San Francisco, when we had a daughter and started to think more concretely about the future with a capital F. That’s when we realized what a big impact the food system has on climate. We committed to the idea of making a sustainable restaurant, and when a friend of ours suggested we visit a rancher in Marin County—John Wick [of the Marin Carbon Project], who pretty much blew our minds.

Anthony Myint: John talked a mile a minute and offered us a reason to feel hopeful for the first time in our lives about reversing climate change. He explained the importance of perennial plants, particularly grasses, to “drawing down” carbon dioxide and return it to the soil, and we got so excited. We were still on our way home from Wick’s ranch when we decided to name our latest restaurant The Perennial.


Can McDonald’s Help Solve Climate Change?

Author: Joel Makower | Published: December 4, 2017

For more than four years, McDonald’s has been traversing a long and arduous path to produce “sustainable beef” in its sprawling global supply chain.

Now, it’s looking for solutions right under its feet.

The fast-food giant is embarking on a small but potentially significant project to measure and analyze the ability of cattle farming to sequester carbon in soil, using a style of grazing called adaptive multi-paddock — AMP, for short. If it works, it could transform the way McDonald’s ranchers raise cattle and produce beef — while avoiding the release millions or even billions of tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

All this may sound too good to be true, and it’s early days, but I’ve been watching this unfold for several years, ever since I first heard about AMP from Peter Byck, the filmmaker-turned-carbon-crusader who produced the 2010 documentary “Carbon Nation.” (Confession: I have a cameo in the film.)

Byck’s movie showcased the myriad solutions that were helping address the climate crisis, in some cases by skeptics who were doing these things for reasons other than environmental. Several farmers played starring roles, showing the methods they were employing to enhance soil and raise productivity, in part through raising cattle. That led Byck to further investigate some of the methods.


Switching to Organic Farming Could Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Study Shows

Study also finds that converting conventionally farmed land would not overly harm crop yields or require huge amounts of additional land to feed rising populations

Author: Fiona Harvey | Published: November 14, 2017

Converting land from conventional agriculture to organic production could reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the run-off of excess nitrogen from fertilisers, and cut pesticide use. It would also, according to a new report, be feasible to convert large amounts of currently conventionally farmed land without catastrophic harm to crop yields and without needing huge amounts of new land.

The study, published in the journal Nature Communications, found that by combining organic production with an increasingly vegetarian diet, ways of cutting food waste, and a return to traditional methods of fixing nitrogen in the soil instead of using fertiliser, the world’s projected 2050 population of more than 9 billion could be fed without vastly increasing the current amount of land under agricultural production.

This is important, as converting other land such as forests, cerrado or peatlands to agricultural use would increase greenhouse gas emissions from the land. The authors found that an increase in organic farming would require big changes in farming systems, such as growing legumes to replenish nitrogen in the soil.


However, other scientists were cautious over endorsing the report’s findings, pointing out that the size of the world’s agricultural systems and their variability, as well as assumptions about future nutritional needs, made generalisations about converting to organic farming difficult to make.

Sir Colin Berry, emeritus professor of pathology at Queen Mary, University of London, said: “As for all models, assumptions have to be made and what weight you attach to which item can greatly change outcomes. The assumption that grassland areas will remain constant is a large one. The wastage issue is important but solutions, not addressed here, to post-harvest- pre-market losses will be difficult without fungicides for grains. Some populations could do with more protein to grow and develop normally, despite the models here requiring less animal protein.”

Les Firbank, professor of sustainable agriculture at Leeds University, said: “One of the question marks about organic farming is that it can’t feed the world. [This paper] concludes organic farming does require more land than conventional methods, but if we manage the demand for food by reducing waste and reducing the amount of crops grown as animal feed, organic farming can feed the world.”

He warned: “[These] models can only be viewed as a guide: there are many assumptions that may not turn out to be true and all these scenario exercises are restricted by limited knowledge [and] are fairly simplistic compared to real life, but realistic enough to help formulate policy. The core message is valuable and timely: we need to seriously consider how we manage the global demand for food.”


Raise Your Fork Against Climate Change!

From China, Slow Food rallies its network of food activists in 160 countries: “Let’s change the food system and stop climate change.”

Published: September 29, 2017

“We are all involved. Climate change is not tomorrow, it’s today, and it demands the united efforts of all of humanity. Each of our choices can make a difference, because it is the sum of all our individual actions that will drive change.” In front of the 400 delegates from 90 countries gathered in China to represent the Slow Food and Terra Madre network, Carlo Petrini reaffirmed that climate change is a reality, that it does not regard some distant future but the here and now. “It is Slow Food’s duty to work on climate change: There can be no quality, no good food, without respect for the environment, for resources and for human labor.”

During the Congress’s opening session delegates and experts from the Slow Food and Terra Madre network shared their experiences:

Remi Ie, Japan. President of Slow Food Nippon.

“In Japan, 2017 was a devastating year for fishers and farmers. Our country used to be known as ‘the land of four seasons’ but this year we experienced torrential rains that devastated the island of Kyushu. In the north, fishers could not catch salmon because of changes in the ocean currents; instead, fish species typical of temperate seas are being found. And everyone noticed the abnormal changes in the cherry tree blossom.”

Francesco Sottile, Italy. Lecturer in Arboreal Cultivation and Special Arboriculture at the University of Palermo.

“Europe saw a severe drought this summer, interspersed by sudden downpours that caused hydrogeological disasters. These exceptional events have dramatic effects on agriculture, history and traditional cultures, particularly in the most vulnerable rural areas. For many years climate change has been attributed to the incessant emissions from industry, and it is only recently that there is awareness about the role that agriculture and livestock farming play. But do different agricultural models exist? We have to decide to act once and for all, each of us with our own contribution at any level. Governments will have to meet targets for containing greenhouse gas emissions globally. At the same time, each one of us is able to make their own choices and contribute individually to delivering a better world.”


Farmers Sequestering Carbon for Better Soil Health

Author: Brian Todd | Published: October 23, 2017

Where do you keep your carbon?

If you’re Jon Luhman, you’re trying to sock some away in the ground. Preferably for a rainy day.

Luhman and his son, Jared Luhman, raise beef cows, black beans and corn, plus forage for the cattle — all of it organic — on a little more than 700 acres at Dry Creek Red Angus farm, northwest of Goodhue.

In the process, Luhman is putting carbon back into the soil, a process he said helps his farm in a multitude of ways.

“The number one reason is for fertility,” he said. “Its a big benefit for production. It absorbs more moisture. So there’s more water infiltration, more organic matter and less tillage.”

In fact, a pound of organic matter — which consists of 58 percent carbon — can hold as much as six pounds of water in the soil, according to University of Minnesota Extension. In sandy soil, organic matter and the water it holds can make the difference between a successful crop and crop failure in a dry year.

All of this, he said, leads to his motto: “Leave the soil in a better state than when we started.”

Promoting benefits

That’s the message Shona Snater said she hopes other farmers hear when they attend field days organized by the Land Stewardship Project. Snater, a member of the LSP’s soil health team, said that while the benefits of adding carbon to the soil — essentially a form of carbon sequestration — has a positive effect in the battle against climate change, it is important to let farmers understand the economic and agricultural benefits of the practice.


“We want to promote the positive benefits,” she said. “Maybe not just for climate change, but for their own profitability.”


Farmers Can Extract and Store Carbon. Rep. John Faso Is Ready to Help.

Author: Mary Dixon | Published: October 2, 2017

The path to passing a nationwide Carbon Fee and Dividend requires building connections, sharing knowledge, and celebrating small wins along the way. Most of all, it requires listening. The recent achievements of our Columbia County, N.Y. chapter are a prime example of this strategy at work.

Small-scale farmers abound in rural Columbia County. In January, the area’s CCL chapter hosted an event to educate community members on the potential of carbon farming practices to offset the effects of climate change, bringing together scientists, growers and experts in land management. The gathering also caught the attention of political leaders, including U.S. Representative John Faso, who represents New York’s 19th Congressional District and sits on the House Agriculture Committee. He’s also a member of the bipartisan House Climate Solutions Caucus.

As a follow-up to this event, CCL representatives invited Rep. Faso to visit a farm in his district to learn more about carbon farming and hear from his constituents. Faso said yes, and the Congressman, along with the CCL chapter’s Agriculture Liaison Jan Storm, paid a visit to the nearby Stone House Farm.

Stone House Farm is a living model of the many benefits of regenerative agriculture. The farm’s key practices—including tillage reduction, cover crops, companion planting, crop rotation, planned grazing and keyline plowing—improve soil quality, making it more resilient to climate conditions like flooding and drought and less susceptible to erosion. These practices also increase soil’s organic matter. Soils with more organic matter require less fertilizer, which in turn means less runoff into waterways and greater profitability for farmers. Perhaps most important of all, managing farms this way actually draws carbon out of the atmosphere. If all cropland in the U.S. was farmed using regenerative practices, the GHG reduction would be equivalent to eliminating nearly 90 percent of our country’s cars.

Generating support for regenerative farming

Rep. Faso was impressed by Stone House Farm’s success. Now, he’s hoping to share what he’s learned with others in Congress. He has called for incentives for carbon sequestration farming programs and asked for CCL’s help in identifying farms across the country practicing regenerative agriculture, particularly those in districts with a representative on the House Agriculture Committee.

That’s a big win—and it’s not the only way that support for sustainable agriculture is growing in upstate New York. In February, State Assemblywoman Didi Barrett introduced legislation to offer tax credits for carbon farming. While other states have established programs to help farmers respond to climate change, Barrett’s proposed credit would be the first to give tax breaks to farmers who use regenerative, climate-mitigating techniques.


Regreening the Planet Could Cut as Much Carbon as Halting Oil Use – Report

Natural solutions such as tree planting, protecting peatlands and better land management could account for 37% of all cuts needed by 2030, says study

Author: Reuters | Published: October 17, 2017

Planting forests and other activities that harness the power of nature could play a major role in limiting global warming under the 2015 Paris agreement, an international study showed on Monday.

Natural climate solutions, also including protection of carbon-storing peatlands and better management of soils and grasslands, could account for 37% of all actions needed by 2030 under the 195-nation Paris plan, it said.

Combined, the suggested “regreening of the planet” would be equivalent to halting all burning of oil worldwide, it said.

“Better stewardship of the land could have a bigger role in fighting climate change than previously thought,” the international team of scientists said of findings published in the US journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. 
The estimates for nature’s potential, led by planting forests, were up to 30% higher than those envisaged by a UN panel of climate scientists in a 2014 report, it said.

Trees soak up heat-trapping carbon dioxide as they grow and release it when they burn or rot. That makes forests, from the Amazon to Siberia, vast natural stores of greenhouse gases.

Overall, better management of nature could avert 11.3bn tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions a year by 2030, the study said, equivalent to China’s current carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel use.

The Paris climate agreement, weakened by US president Donald Trump’s decision in June to pull out, seeks to limit a rise in global temperature to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial times.

Current government pledges to cut emissions are too weak to achieve the 2C goal, meant to avert more droughts, more powerful storms, downpours and heat waves.


“Fortunately, this research shows we have a huge opportunity to reshape our food and land use systems,” Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, said in a statement of Monday’s findings.


First Steps Toward Building a Regeneration Movement in Your Local Community

The paradigm shift from degenerative food, farming and land-use practices toward regenerative practices—those that regenerate soil, biodiversity, health, local economies and climate stability—is arguably the most critical transformation occurring throughout the world today.

Regeneration practices, scaled up globally on billions of acres of farmland, pasture and forest, have the potential to not only mitigate, but also to reverse global warming. At the same time, these practices provide solutions to other burning issues such as poverty, deteriorating public health, environmental degradation and global conflict.

The promise of regeneration lies in its ability to increase plant photosynthesis on a large scale. Plant photosynthesis, which draws down CO2 from the atmosphere and releases oxygen, transfers carbon into the plant roots and soil. Fundamental changes in farming, grazing and land use practices across billions of acres of land, as well as the shift to 100- percent renewable energy, has the potential to draw down enough CO2 from the atmosphere into our soils, plants and forests to reverse global warming and re-stabilize the climate.

As this great drawdown and re-carbonization of the soil and biota occurs, civilization will reap a wide range of other benefits. These include increased soil fertility, increased soil moisture (rainfall retention), the return of regular rainfall and weather patterns, increased food production, nutrient-rich food, enhanced biodiversity, rural and urban economic development and millions of new “green” jobs.

The biggest obstacle we face in scaling regenerative agriculture is educating the public on a global scale. Only a small percentage of citizens, farmers, scientists and policymakers understand the benefits of regenerative food and farming. Some haven’t even heard the term. Therefore, our initial task is to educate folks on the message of regeneration. From there, we can organize core groups, coalitions, pilot projects and policy reforms in every town, city, state and nation.

The following action plan is designed to jumpstart an educational campaign on regenerative food, farming and land-use.

Step 1. Learn the basic principles of regenerative food, farming and land-use.

 Learn how to explain regenerative food, farming and land use as a solution to climate change, global food insecurity, biodiversity loss, water scarcity, public health and more. Be sure to avoid the “doom and gloom” climate change talk, and instead focus on the solution: regeneration.

Once you understand the principles of regenerative food, farming and land use, get excited! Your inspiration will inspire others to join the cause. Over time, you’ll improve your outreach and your ability to recruit others. A good place to start is to engage in conversations with people you already know, and who are concerned about the crises we currently face.

Avoid those closed off to the concept of regeneration. Focus instead on people who are open minded and interested in solutions. You’ll know you’re ready to spread the message of regeneration on a larger scale once you’ve inspired those closest to you, i.e. friends, family members, co-workers.

For more information on regeneration, visit

For the latest research on regenerative agriculture, visit

For trending news on regenerative agriculture, visit

Step 2. Develop a core group of 4-5 regenerators. Then join or create your local “Regenerate” Facebook group

 Candidates for these groups include but aren’t limited to local food, climate, farm and political activists; environmentalists; local church members; students; teachers; gardeners; and artists.

Plan a potluck or study group to build your core group’s understanding of our most pressing issues and brainstorm ways to grow your mission. Ask your members to join a local “Regenerate” Facebook group. Or create one if there isn’t an existing group in your area. Click here to find your local “Regenerate” group:

You may also register as an affiliate of Regeneration International here:

Step 3. Get familiar with the Global 4/1000 Initiative on Soils and Food Security.

 The 4/1000 initiative is the only global local-to-national climate strategy to sequester excess carbon from the atmosphere as a means of reversing climate change.

Think of the 4/1000 initiative as sort of a Global Declaration of Interdependence, an acknowledgement and a pledge, from people all over the world, to commit to a plan to regenerate our planet.

Activists in dozens of countries worldwide are now using the 4/1000 initiative as an outreach tool for recruiting individuals and organizations to join the regeneration movement. Our hope is that these coalitions will lobby representatives at the city, county, state, national and international levels to pass resolutions supportive of the 4/1000 initiative.

Regeneration International’s goal is to get 50,000 community-based organizations and NGOs (non-governmental organizations) to sign on to the 4/1000 Initiative by 2020, ultimately inspiring a global grassroots movement.

Step 4. Develop a plan of action for reaching the masses.

 For the regeneration movement to take root, individuals and groups will need to understand the importance of connecting the dots between what they or their organizations are already working on, and the global campaign to regenerate the Earth’s natural systems, including climate, and soil and water cycles—and ultimately the health of the planet and all who inhabit it.

Target groups include: food, environmental, farm, climate, peace, immigration and faith-based groups, as well as students and others with an open mind and interest in regeneration.

How will you reach out to these groups? How will you identify people within the groups who are receptive to regeneration as an over-arching solution to multiple crises? Suggestions include attending their meetings, listening to their concerns, then finding an opening to introduce the concept of regeneration. Some groups like to have speakers/presentations at their meetings—can you get on the schedule? Or maybe invite a few people from multiple groups to a separate gathering, to discuss their work, and how it fits in with the regeneration movement?

Step 5. Contact Regeneration International to learn how to arrange regional and national meetings.

 Once your core group has educated other groups and individuals in your area, built a critical mass of organizations signed on to the 4/1000 initiative, and begun lobbying local representatives to pass 4/1000 resolutions, contact Regeneration International to learn how to arrange regional and national meetings to spread the message of regeneration even more widely.

Regeneration International can also provide resources for promoting and scaling regenerative plot projects and best practices for your region.

Ronnie Cummins is international director of the Organic Consumers Association and member of the Regeneration International steering committee.

How Treating Dirt Well Could Fight Climate Change

Author: Rob Jordan-Stanford | Published: October 9, 2017

With the right management, soil could “significantly” offset increasing global emissions by  trapping carbon dioxide.

In two overlapping papers, researchers call for a reversal of federal cutbacks to related research programs to learn more about soil’s benefits and emphasize the need for more research into how—if managed well—it could mitigate a rapidly changing climate.

“Dirt is not exciting to most people,” says Rob Jackson, a professor of Earth system science at Stanford University, lead author of the first paper in Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics article, and coauthor of the second paper in Global Change Biology paper. “But it is a no-risk climate solution with big co-benefits. Fostering soil health protects food security and builds resilience to droughts, floods and urbanization.”

Risks and promise

Organic matter in soil, such as decomposing plant and animal residues, stores more carbon than do plants and the atmosphere combined. Unfortunately, the carbon in soil has been widely lost or degraded through land use changes and unsustainable forest and agricultural practices, fires, nitrogen deposition, and other human activities. The greatest near-term threat comes from thawing permafrost in Earth’s northern reaches, which could release massive amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.

Despite these risks, there is also great promise, according to Jackson and Jennifer Harden, a visiting scholar in Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences and lead author of the Global Change Biology paper.

Improving how the land is managed could increase soil’s carbon storage enough to offset future carbon emissions from thawing permafrost, the researchers find. Among the possible approaches: reduced tillage, year-round livestock forage, and compost application. Planting more perennial crops, instead of annuals, could store more carbon and reduce erosion by allowing roots to reach deeper into the ground.


How the Food Industry Can Help Reverse Climate Change

Author: Katy Askew | Published: July 25, 2017 

According to the latest data from the US’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOOA), average global temperatures in March were 1.05°C higher than when records began in 1880. Scientific consensus – which is reflected in the Paris Climate Accord – places the ‘point of no return’, when global warming reaches dangerous levels, at 2°C. 

The climate clock is ticking.

Estimates vary as to how long we have left to stabilise warming below this level. The Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) calculates this time based on the premise that we can emit a maximum of 760 gigatons of CO2 into the atmosphere between now and 2100. At present, we are emitting 40 gigatons of CO2 each year. That’s 1,268 tons per second. At current rates, we have a little over 18 years before our carbon budget is spent, the MCC says. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) suggests if humans carry on with a “business as usual” approach, the Earth’s average temperature will rise by between 2.6°C and 4.8°C above pre-industrial levels by 2100.

For some climate scientists, however, this estimate could be optimistic. A 2016 paper published in Scientific Advances, under lead author Tobias Friedrich of the of the University of Hawaii, argues temperature rises due to greenhouse gas emissions are “strongly dependent on the climate background state”, with “significantly larger values attained during warm phases”. 

In other words, the hotter it gets, the quicker the temperature is likely to rise. According to this paradigm, at current emission levels, the average global temperature could rise by between 4.78°C and 7.36°C by 2100. 

The food industry is particularly vulnerable to climate change. As the World Food Programme and Met Office food insecurity map shows, areas in Africa, the Middle East and Asia are already vulnerable to food insecurity and global warming brought about by rising emissions that are set to deepen the problems faced in these regions. 

“Changes in climatic conditions have already affected the production of some staple crops, and future climate change threatens to exacerbate this. Higher temperatures will have an impact on yields while changes in rainfall could affect both crop quality and quantity,” the WFP warns. 

The integrated global nature of the food industry supply chain – which is reliant on crops such as cocoa and coffee, as well as coconut and palm oil, that are internationally sourced – mean large-scale food manufacturers in Europe and North America, where the WFP says food insecurity is negligible, are far from immune to the negative consequences of global warming.

The food industry and Scope 3 emissions

The food industry is also one of the largest carbon emitters. For instance, if both direct and indirect emissions are taken into account, over 30% of the European Union’s greenhouse gas emissions come from the food and drink sector, environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth notes. 

Andrew Nobrega, the North American investment director at France-based PUR Projet, which looks to help companies regenerate and protect ecosystems, that the food sector is already taking action to address emissions, from investments in renewables to carbon offsetting. 

Speaking during a Climate Collaborative event in May, Nobrega notes: “Many organisations attempt to both value and address Scope 1 and Scope 2 emissions within their supply chain.” These emissions include those directly from production, such as efforts to lower energy use, and indirect emissions such as transportation. “There is an opportunity to look a little bit further and look at Scope 3 emissions,” Nobrega says. 

Scope 3 emissions include those produced by raw material processing and production and, Nobrega says, these account for 40-50% of a product’s total emissions. 

PUR Projet specialises in providing supply chain management for corporations that reflect “positive carbon actions and the need to cut deforestation in commodity sourcing” and it operates projects in Latin America and other tropical forested regions.  

To address Scope 3 emissions directly, investment can be targeted at the farm level to promote ecosystems and biodiversity, stabilise yields, reduce costs for the farmers and provide alternative income opportunities and help to adapt to climate change and reduce pressure on their systems, Nobrega suggests. Ecosystem restoration can be achieved through agroforestry practices, such as insetting trees, rotating crop cycles and utilising non-chemical fertilisation methods. 

“We are taking a unit of climate mitigation and we are seeking to address climate smart agriculture and the regeneration of forests in some cases but also decreasing deforestation in the first place,” Nobrega explains. 

“Agroforestry itself is a carbon sequestration measure… and by the provision of sustainable timber and mitigating loss of yields you actually reduce the need for these farmers to go further into existing forested lands to degrade either for more agricultural land, illegal timber harvesting or something of that nature. So you are both engaging climate action on the parcel level and reducing the need for degradation outside of the parcel.”

Preventing deforestation has been flagged as a priority by global chocolate giants, companies reliant on cocoa. Earlier this year, companies including Nestle, Mondelez International, Hershey, Ferrero and Mars announced plans to work together to “end deforestation and forest degradation in the global cocoa supply chain”.  

The joint initiative, which also has the backing of NGOs and other stakeholders, will move to “develop and present a joint public-private framework of action to address deforestation” at the COP 23 UN climate change talks in Bonn in November. It will initially focus on Côte d’Ivoire and Ghana, the world’s leading producers of cocoa, where the farming of the commodity is a driving force behind rapid rates of deforestation.

Regenerative agriculture

While addressing deforestation helps to cut Scope 3 emissions for some products, climate smart agriculture can also help to take carbon from the atmosphere and put it back in the ground through photosynthesis. 

For this to work, you have to start with healthy soil, Tim LaSalle of California State University and Chico State, told an event focused on climate change running alongside the Natural Products Expo West food industry trade show in California earlier this year.