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Earth Pledge’s Farm to Table Initiative

by Leslie Hoffman

Chefs are always on the lookout for inspiration; special ingredients or a rare twist on old favorites. And in the spring, is there anything better than the first locally farmed products? Fresh greens and long dormant vegetables once again bloom and sprout to take center stage -and what great taste!
In 1995, Earth Pledge created its Farm to Table Initiative, which brings together farmers and distributors, chefs and consumers to create demand and supply for locally produced and sustainably raised food. We work with the farm community to identify, research, and share information about new agricultural practices that can reduce the negative environmental and health impacts associated with conventional growing practices.

We had the idea to pursue food issues first as an element of sustainable tourism when we were organizing the first Caribbean Conference on Sustainable Tourism. The response to the presentation at that conference indicated that there was a resonance for the concept, and we determined to establish the Initiative as a principal activity. During the late 90’s we hosted several Sustainable Cuisine dinners, one of them at the United Nations with the Secretary General, and published a book called Sustainable Cuisine White Papers. Rising from the 18th century tradition of using white papers as a forum for exploring important social and political issues, the book features commentary by chefs, restaurateurs, farmers, food producers, academics and other food experts, including actor Paul Newman, and Tim Ryan of the Culinary Institute of America. It was hailed by Alice Waters of Chez Panisse as “testimonials that show us that a sustainable life is both necessary and delicious,” and called the “most important, readable little green book with a big green agenda.”

In 2000 Earth Pledge began its series of film screenings, lectures, tastings and sustainable cuisine cooking classes, featuring chefs and local food devotees such as Michael Romano of Union Square Café, Amy Scherber of Amy’s bread, Ilene Rosen of City Bakery, Dan Barber of Blue Hill, and Remy Funfrock of Café Boulud. We were also able to use ingredients from our own kitchen garden on our green roof as edible incentives in the discussion of the growing movements in America to connect individuals with their communities, their farmers and their environment. Paired with caringly grown, expert-prepared food and wine, these discussions proved to bear long-lasting fruit. Suddenly there were chefs learning about the urban heat island effect and the effects of combined sewage overflow, while seeing that we could combat these environmental problems with a technology that brings plants closer into our urban lives. was launched in 2001 as the meeting point for New York area folks looking to either market or source farm product. The web site connected 276 farmers, 281 farmers markets, 122 restaurants, 72 CSAs, and anyone looking to find the freshest, tastiest food available.

We are now embarking on a 25-city expansion of our program with the support of Food & Wine magazine. They have launched the “Grow For Good” campaign to raise one million dollars to benefit Farm to Table, and enable this expansion. We are thrilled to be celebrating the Food & Wine Classic’s 25th anniversary with this fantastic effort to save America’s small and mid-sized farms. We hope and expect that our innovative and pragmatic approaches will impact thousands of farms and farm families over the next several years.

As we have begun to see agriculture as essential to sustainability -whether it is for food, fiber for the shirts on our backs, fuel for our transportation, or lumber for our building material -we have continued to seek implementation strategies that help farmers earn a decent living (so that they can keep farming), as well as to help them reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Farming is responsible for roughly 18% of carbon emissions wordwide, and by changing farm practices these global warming creating emissions can be drastically reduced. Additionally, there are ways that farmers can sequester carbon, and we have launched Limit 450 to help farmers transition their on-farm approaches. We call our carbon offset program Limit 450 because 450 parts per million represents a point at which, if we can stabilize CO2 in the atmosphere, we might avoid the worst impacts of climate change. We are currently at 380 parts per million.

Limit 450 provides financial support for farmers across the country to improve their soil management, rice cultivation management, manure management, and other agriculture-related land use activities. Our programs are closely monitored, measured, and verified.

Earth Pledge sells carbon offsets after working first to help reduce and rethink the carbon footprint of our clients. We will help set up an in-house system to evaluate and calculate the carbon footprint - the amount of CO2 associated with travel, energy consumption, food miles and the production and shipping of materials. After developing strategies for reducing carbon usage, we encourage offsetting what carbon remains as a way to finance the agricultural land use central to the earth’s future sustainability.

We are currently developing a calculator that will compare the carbon emissions of transporting food from where it is produced to where you buy it and the method that was used to grow it for over 40 crops. The question we aim to resolve for you is, “Which is better; conventionally grown local products, or organic products from far away.” The answer will depend on which crop you are buying, and it also depends on the season. This calculator will become a central feature of the new Farm to Table web site.

As we move to revamp the site, and expand nationally, we certainly aim to continue to work with New York’s great chef community. Please be in touch with us if you are interested in transitioning your restaurant toward a truly sustainable enterprise, and if we can work with you to help source sustainable product, reduce your own carbon footprint, or share the word of your progress with our audience, we will welcome hearing from you. We also need your help, as you are the purchasers who will help us help farmers continue to produce the best food in the very best manner. And if I don’t see you at the market, I’ll see you at the dinner table. Cheers,
Leslie Hoffman
Executive Director, Earth Pledge


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