The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is working with chefs across the United States to raise awareness of the link between soil health and resilient food systems.
NRDC’s Chefs for Healthy Soils program takes advantage of a chef’s communication channels with both food producers and consumers.
By purchasing ingredients from producers committed to regenerative agriculture practices, chefs can show their support for food grown in a way that benefits planetary health. And by telling diners the story of the food and how it’s grown, they can help eaters understand how dietary choices impact the environment.
“Collectively, we have the power to transform our food systems to be more equitable, healthy, and climate-friendly,” says Chef Adrian Lipscombe, Founder of the 40 Acres Project, and a member of the Project. “Being a part of the Chefs for Healthy Soils program is an opportunity to connect with like-minded chefs who want to celebrate and protect our communities and local ecosystems.”
With NRDC’s support, chefs in the program are also meeting with legislators, publishing op-eds, hosting educational events, amplifying messages through social media, and more.
According to research from NRDC, industrial farming practices degrade soils, pollute the environment, and harm biodiversity. But by implementing practices that improve soil health, producers can sequester carbon, clean waterways, and protect wildlife.
Ambassadors participating in Chefs for Healthy Soils also include Crystal Wahpepah of Wahpepah’s Kitchen; Matthew Kenney of Ayre and others; Katarina Petonito and Rochelle Cooper of The Duck & The Peach, Matthew McClure of Woodstock Inn & Resort; Bryce Gilmore of Odd Duck; and Vincent Medina and Luis Trevino of Cafe Ohlone.
Many of these chefs are not new to advocacy. Lipscombe, Gilmore and McClure, for example, are among those who have been selected to participate in the James Beard Foundation’s Chef Bootcamp for Policy and Change, a program that trains chefs to use their voice and push for better food systems.
“Chefs work with farmers every day and care deeply about farmers and their practices. Chefs for Healthy Soil know that food is tastier and the planet is better off when farmers are empowered to care for their soil,” Lara Bryant, Deputy Director of Water and Agriculture for NRDC, tells Food Tank. “Chefs are a compelling voice who can use their influence for good by advocating for policies that promote soil health.”
To advance the program’s work, NRDC recently partnered with The James Beard Foundation, Niman Ranch, Zero Foodprint, and Baldor to host a lobby day series to help policymakers understand the importance of healthy soils. Chefs from across the country traveled to D.C. to participate in a trainings with soil scientists and farmers implementing regenerative agriculture practices. They also met with key legislators to gain support for the COVER Act, which aims to expand the usage of cover crops on farms.
“There is something powerful about the two ends of the food system, farmers and chefs, uniting in a shared call for smart policy to support soil health,” Alicia Laporte, Communications Director for Niman Ranch, tells Food Tank. “Soil health is clearly a priority for farmers, tied directly to their resilience, yields and future existence. But soil health also has less obvious impacts for chefs: with better flavor and nutrition from food produced with regenerative practices to more vibrant rural main streets with small and mid-size independent farms able to compete in the marketplace thanks to policies that incentivize and support sustainability.”
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Photo courtesy of Eliv Aceron, Unsplash