What if the ubiquitous phrase “farm to table” is backward? What if the key to eating better and healing the earth lies in switching the order of those words? According to San Fransisco-based Anthony Myint, the Mission Chinese co-founder-turned-climate-change-activist, it’s the “table to farm” movement that has the potential to help stop global warming. Myint has brought this ethos to Colorado in the form of Zero Foodprint (ZFP), a nonprofit organization he established four years ago.
ZFP is all about taking collective action at the table to make improvements to our domestic food systems at the farm level. Specifically, the organization’s focus is on regenerative agriculture, or carbon farming. The science is relatively new, but carbon farming is essentially synonymous with regenerative land management practices that include growing food while replenishing soil health, so that soil can sequester more carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “Carbon farming could buy us many decades of time, or it could be so powerful it could lower global temperatures,” Myint says.
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Until recently, ZFP’s work has been focused on California, but after Myint spent time in Denver last summer attending the Slow Food Nations conference, he got to know our chefs, diners, and policy makers, deciding that the Centennial State is the best spot in which to expand the ZFP program.
Here’s how it works: Participating restaurants add a small optional surcharge to tabs, with the funds raised going back to local farms in the form of grants to help farmers set up carbon farming projects. A one percent surcharge is Myint’s goal—which translates to donating $.50 for every $50 spent—but restaurants can also participate by going carbon neutral.
“Healthy soil is the biggest win-win in the food movement, and shockingly very little of our food economy incentivizes healthy soil,” Myint says. “One percent feels like not that big of a difference to the customer, but system wide that starts to create tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to change farming practices on local farms. Policy makers can then scale up, and instead of chefs opting in, maybe that becomes the default, and all of sudden we have millions of dollars.”
Boulder-based Mad Agriculture is partnering with ZFP to help connect the dots between the funds ZFP raises and local growers. Longmont’s McCauley Farms has already received a ZFP grant and is working with Mad Agriculture on a carbon farming project expected to remove 300 tons of carbon from the atmosphere.
Currently, Annette, Grand Junction’s Bin 707, Serendipity Catering, and Sullivan Scrap Kitchen have signed on to the ZFP program, and there are many more Colorado restaurants set to join this fall. Local compost pick-up company Scraps Mile High will be a part the initiative as well, although its still working on how to best operationalize a surcharge.
“Someone can choose, through this small surcharge on their meal, to support this carbon-rich regenerative farming,” says Brett KenCairn, senior policy advisor for climate and resilience for the city of Boulder. “We hope ultimately it becomes the norm… all restaurants would be expected to be a part of the program, and that a person has to opt out if they don’t want to pay that fee.”
The city of Denver is also getting involved with ZFP via its newly formed Office of Climate Action, Sustainability, and Resiliency. It will add ZFP as an elective criterion to its Certifiably Green Denver restaurant and caterer certification, the city’s business sustainability program, as well as promoting ZFP to their participants. “While Denver doesn’t have much agricultural land, we support the use of compost and carbon sequestration through regional regenerative farming practices,” says Susan Renaud, the office’s community engagement administrator.
“We need this collective action to make real change,” Myint says. “Colorado’s going to lead a big movement.”