Patagonia Provisions’ Long Root Ale to breed cultures of sustainability.
Our food culture defined by a convenient, cheap, high fat, high salt, high sugar, high meat diet is not a viable cultural paradigm as we are living beyond the world’s ‘Planetary Boundaries’ and threatened by climatic change. (Rockström et al., 2009). The food system, centred around annual staple crops from monoculture farming systems, impacting water consumption and pollution, eutrophication, land use and soil degradation, biodiversity loss and contributing 19-29% of total global anthropogenic GHG emissions (Vermeulen, 2012; Garnett, 2011) threatens our well-being and ecological health.
Perennial foods offer a multifunctional solution. Patagonia Provisions— the outdoor clothing company’s new sustainable food branch— has just launched Long Root Ale, a beer brewed with ‘Kernza’, a perennial version of annual wheat (www.patagoniaprovisions.com). As the funky beer name implies, this perennial wheat has long roots with many ecological benefits which are discussed hereafter.
There is now a substantial body of research into the role of dietary change in addressing food’s environmental impacts and the implications of such shifts for human nutrition – and vice versa. Generally, studies find that a low environmental impact diet is one centred on a diverse assortment of tubers, whole grains, legumes and fruits and vegetables, with animal products eaten sparingly. While general principles may not be appropriate to everyone, such a diet is also broadly consistent with good health (Garnett, 2014a).
Since consumption is largely a cultural process, in order to achieve this change we need a novel cultural diet shift that embodies health and low environmental impact in line with basic human nutritional needs (Dolan, 2002). It is imperative to consume more foods that are part of a ‘sustainable healthy diet’ (Garnett, 2014b), notably perennial staple crops and vegetables.
Perennial crops (including vegetables, fruit, leaves and staple crops like cereals, pulses, oilseeds and tubers) are plants or trees that live three or more years and are not destroyed by harvesting (Toensmeier, 2016.). Perennial crops are found in a plethora of farming systems, from large-scale monocultures (tree orchards) to agroecological systems and other agricultural systems that are promising in the face of climate change: systems combining mitigation with food production such as agroforestry and its relatives (silvopasture, permaculture and low-impact organic systems) (Garnett, 2011).
In the last 10,000 years we have gone from being hunter-gatherers to domesticating perennial crops and then switching to the domestication of annual plants due to the rise of civilisation and the ease of selection for favourable traits in annual farming systems (Diamond, 1999; Wagoner & Schaeffer, 1990). Several historical examples of the cultivation of perennial species exist—notably the Viking settlers of Iceland and Greenland cultivated wildrye, Leymus arenarius, as recently as the early 20th century before it was displaced by wheat importation (Wagoner & Schaeffer, 1990).
Sweet chestnut, another culturally important perennial, is native to the deciduous woodlands of southern Europe, western Asian and North Africa. It was introduced to Britain by the Romans and has been widely consumed since ancient times as a staple food (notably in parts of Italy and Corsica) largely replacing cereals (Woodland Trust).
While the development of agriculture came with great advantages to a rising civilisation, the current mass-production and mismanagement of these systems threatens the ecosystems on which annual production relies on, and threatens civilisation itself (Wagoner, 1990)..
Indeed, the western diet as we see it today mainly relies on a handful of foods: grains such as wheat, rice and maize which together occupy 70% of the world’s cropland. These are currently all annuals, which means they must be replanted each year from seed, require large amounts of fertilizers and pesticides, poorly protect soil from erosion, nutrient & water loss, and provide little habitat for wildlife. Their production also emits significant greenhouse gases (Reganold, 2010).
Perennial crops on the other hand provide a wide array of benefits: they do not have to be reseeded or replanted every year— eliminating the need for annual plowing and herbicide applications to establish them. Perennial crops are robust and protect soil from erosion in addition to improving soil structure. “They increase ecosystem nutrient retention, carbon sequestration, and water infiltration, and can contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation. Overall, they help ensure food and water security over the long term” (Land Institute).
Throughout history, culture has played a very important role in shaping the food norms we see today. Beer has been a part of cultures throughout the world for as long as humans have formed them. From ancient times, to today’s modern life, beer always has a place among different economic classes, and has been an important part of celebration and good fellowship (www.beerinstitute.org). Patagonia Provisions’ Long Root Ale is a promising strategy to pioneer cultures of sustainability— tapping into an established community of outdoor enthusiasts to re-introduce the concept of perennial crops and their associated benefits.
There are two main approaches to breed perennial grains, pulses, and oilseed crops:
1. Domestication of wild perennial plants
2. Perennialization of existing annual crops (The Land Institute)
Perennialising common annual staple crops (rice, maize, wheat) with breeding techniques would be a simple shift towards perennial food consumption (familiarity with production and consumption) which would require few modifications to exiting equipment and infrastructure. However, breeding research still has a long way to go (Toensmeier, 2016) and we must leverage culture to help transition towards the consumption of underutilised perennials (e.g., chestnut flour, breadfruit, pawpaw, Jerusalem artichoke) .
Patagonia’s partnership with The Land Institute to breed, produce and utilise Kernza is a tremendous leap towards furthering the research and development of perennial crops. Achieving mainstream perennial food consumption will help build economies of scale and overcome the current economic barriers.
Introducing a perennial food culture offers a multi-pronged solution to mainstreaming a sustainable healthy diet— it addresses health by replacing our overconsumption of meat with plant-based proteins, and addresses the environment by tackling climate change. Today, consumers aren’t faced with a simple choice between right/wrong—between good, eco-friendly organic food and bad, unhealthy, environmentally destructive conventional food. Rather they are faced with “a dazzling array of competing desires, preferences, anxieties, beliefs and practical issues of availability, convenience, and cost” (Lockie et al., 2002). Mainstreaming perennial foods seeks to systematically integrate sustainable food solutions into institutions and processes to change culture and practices into more viable ones with ease as consumers try to make healthy and environmentally conscious choices.
So, next time you seek recipe inspiration why not try cooking some perennials such as rhubarb or artichoke complemented with Long Root Ale ! Here is one of my recipes for asparagus focaccia . Ever heard of Good King Henry , French Sorrel or Sea Kale ? If you are looking for low- maintenance perennial crops for your garden that you only have to plant once, check out Martin Crawford’s Forest Garden book . The Carbon Farming Solution by Eric Toensmeyer provides lists of perennial foods by region.
Assadourian, E. (2013). Re-engineering Cultures to Create a Sustainable Civilization. In W. Institute (Ed.), State of the World 2013 (pp. 113–125). Island Press/Center for Resource Economics. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/chapter/10.5822/978-1-61091-458-1_10
Diamond, J. (1999). Guns, germs, and steel: The fates of human societies. WW Norton & Company.
Dolan, P. (2002). The sustainability of “sustainable consumption.” Journal of Macromarketing, 22(2), 170–181.
Garnett, T. (2011). Where are the best opportunities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the food system (including the food chain)? Food Policy, 36, S23–S32.
Garnett, T. (2014a). Changing what we eat: A call for research & action on widespread adoption of sustainable healthy eating. Food Climate Research Network, June
Garnett, T. (2014b). What is a sustainable healthy diet? A discussion paper. Retrieved from https://cgspace.cgiar.org/bitstream/handle/10568/35584/FCRN-sustainable-healthy-diet.pdf
Rockström, J., Steffen, W. L., Noone, K., Persson, \AAsa, Chapin III, F. S., Lambin, E., … others. (2009). Planetary boundaries: exploring the safe operating space for humanity. Retrieved from http://pdxscholar.library.pdx.edu/iss_pub/64/
The Land Institute. (2013). Land Institute annual report. Retrieved from https://landinstitute.org/sites/default/files/fy2013_annual_report.pdf
The Woodland Trust | Resources | The Sweet Chestnut. (n.d.). Retrieved April 14, 2016, from http://www.ancient-tree-hunt.org.uk/morestuff/The+Sweet+Chestnut
Toensmeier, E. (2016). The Carbon Farming Solution: A Global Toolkit of Perennial Crops and Regenerative Agriculture Practices for Climate Change Mitigation and Food Security. Chelsea Green Publishing.
Wagoner, P., & Schaeffer, J. R. (1990). Perennial grain development: past efforts and potential for the future. Critical Reviews in Plant Sciences, 9(5), 381–408.