There are several definitions of “perennial" from the Merriam-Webster dictionary.
1. Present at all seasons of the year
2. Persisting for several years usually with new herbaceous growth from a perennating part
3. Continuing without interruption
Perhaps none of those definitions, however, quite captures the essence or importance of perennial agriculture. Perennial crops constantly grow and can live for years. Most crops, however, are short-lived; therefore, they need to be replanted after every harvesting cycle. Thus, the soil's nutrients are constantly being reaped, and more chemical fertilizers and pesticides must be applied to the new round of soil, which only further depletes nutrients from the earth's surface and diminishes biodiversity.1 With approximately 1/4 of the Earth's land surface being used for agricultural purposes, how humans choose to produce and consume food can have profound implications and dire consequences on the future health of earth and its inhabitants (that's us).
Scientists believe that planting perennial crops is a more sustainable agricultural practice, and imperative to adopt in order to feed a growing global population- predicted to near 9 billion people by the middle of the century.2 It is no mystery that humans are the single greatest threat to biodiversity. However, with that power, humans also have the ability to modify current agricultural practices to create a more sustainable food system and healthier ecosystem.
The Perennial in San Francisco, is one restaurant trying to incorporate perennial foods into all parts of their menu. For example, kernza is a grain pervasively used at the restaurant. A perennial grain, kernza has a much longer root system than its cousin, wheat. In fact, the roots can go as deep as 10 feet below the soil's surface! This extensive root system makes water capture more effective, which is important for water conservation. It also preserves the soil's nutrients and prevents soil erosion.1 Additionally, the grain's seeds do not need to be planted every year, which then removes the need for annual plowing and herbicide application.3 Kernza is one of the celebrated items at the restaurant. Below is a photo of their homemade kernza bread topped with butternut squash, which paired with a springtime soup.
Aquaponics is another important method being used to create a more sustainable food system. In this form of agricultural production, plants and fish are raised together in a mutually beneficial system. Using only 1/10 of the normal amount of water, it is "five times more productive per unit of land than soil-based farming".4 Amazingly, the food scraps from The Perennial go to feed the fish in their 2,000 square foot tank in Oakland, CA. The fish create a natural fertilizer for the vegetables and herbs grown in the tank, which are brought back to the restaurant and incorporated into the menu. This closed-loop cycle is incredibly useful at reducing waste. For dinner, we tasted fish and vegetables from this aquaponic greenhouse.
Even the desserts here use perennial grains. The ice cream had a kernza cookie/cracker on top. We also tried the Bourbon Chocolate Ganache, which disappointingly sounded and looked way better than it tasted. I LOVE the concept of this restaurant, and I hope more restaurants and food entrepreneurs follow suite. Taste wise, I was not particularly impressed, which makes it hard to justify returning to this spot for a meal. Overall, it is a worthwhile experience trying food from a restaurant aiming to change our unsustainable food system.