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Negative carbon food systems

Using currently available soil, energy and crop technologies to turn the nation’s Farm to Fork capital onto a negative emissions city

Photo of Maya Almaraz
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Written by

Lead Applicant Organization Name

University of California, Davis

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Researcher Institution

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Our multi-intuitional consortium includes researchers from UC Davis, Lawrence Berkeley Labs, Cal State East Bay, UC Merced, UC Berkeley. Our industry and agricultural partners include Specialty Granules (Ione, CA), Pacific Biochar, Oregon Biochar Solutions, CA Compost Coalition, West Marin Compost, Almond Board of CA, Due Farm, Bowles Farm Picarro, and the Larta Institute. In order to engage diverse stakeholders, we have also partnered with UC Cooperative Extension (ANR), the Pauma Tribe, and California’s Strategic Growth Council.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Davis, CA

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Sacramento, CA

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We live, work and do research in this area.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Affectionately referred to in the film Lady Bird as “the Midwest of California”, and currently the fastest growing city in the US, Sacramento is unique in that is fuses rural and urban landscapes. As the capitol of California, Sacramento in centrally situated and encompasses the diversity of circumstances, vocations, and ideals of California’s citizens. In this regard, lessons learned in Sacramento can be applied to a variety of land types. Sacramento sits in the Central Valley – an agricultural hub that contributes to the state’s ~$50 billion a year agricultural industry – making it the Farm to Folk capitol of the US.

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?


Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Climate change is an issue that affects food systems worldwide, and Sacramento is no different. While water and fire pose immediate threats to agriculture locally, the Sacramento Valley, like other food-growing regions, is a source of greenhouse gas emissions. With the greatest emissions coming from developed countries, like that of China, EU and the US, decreasing emissions from these productions systems will be key to stabilizing climate and mitigating future climate change – changes that are disproportionately hurting the developing world, where emissions are relatively low. Decreasing emissions from the developed world – rural and metropolis – will be key to mitigating the worst impacts of climate change on our food system. Beyond just reducing emissions, through technologies like soil power, industrialized agricultural is uniquely poised to also remove carbon from the atmosphere using existing soil amendment technologies. Creating model cities that reduce atmospheric carbon rather than producing it, while simultaneously creating jobs, maintaining a strong economy and producing nourishing food for all is a future we envision possible in Sacramento.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Sacramento is the farm to fork capitol of the United States, situated in the most climate change conscience state in the country, and is thus perfectly poised to institute a visionary future of food. A recent UN report has called for a reduction in global greenhouse gas emissions of 8% per year. Seeing how the US is one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gases emissions, and one of the only nations not committed to the Paris Climate Agreement, it will be the influence of emission reductions at sub-national scales that will drive our path towards a safe and food secure future. We propose using existing technologies related to farming practices, soil amendments, new crop varieties, and engagement in electrification of delivery systems to transform Sacramento from a net source to net sink of greenhouse gas emissions. We will use Sacramento as a test case of a solar powered food system that captures carbon and improves resilience.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

California is seeing some of the worst impacts of climate change in the form of fire and drought. Mitigating these climate impacts can have benefits both locally and abroad. Food grown using technologies such as soil amendments have been shown to increase in both yield and nutritional value, providing economic benefits and better quality food. Sacramento and California’s Central Valley has some of the poorest air quality in the country, impacting the health of its citizens. Climate smart technologies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions also have co-benefits for air pollutant emissions. The impacts of a negative emission food system in Sacramento has nutritional, economic, health and climate benefits.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

We envision creating a negative emissions food system for the city of Sacramento by weaving together strategies and objectives related to environment, diet, culture, economics, technology and policy. California sits at the forefront of climate smart policies, and as such, a combination of cap and trade policies, culture and incentives have made important strides in the adoption of renewable energy, electric vehicles and environmentally mindful behavior. In collaboration with our partners, we intend to build off of these trends by working towards greater renewable energy use in the food system, both with on-farm machinery and off-farm delivery systems. We also plan to administer new on-farm technologies that enhance carbon sequestration in soils while simultaneously increasing crop yields, crop quality, and soil health. Globally, our literature review suggests that soil amendments alone could sequester ~10 billion tons of CO2 per year if deployed on the world’s croplands (i.e., 11 % of earth’s surface). With one of the highest rates of plant based diets in the nation and a blossoming waste program, we plan to move these efforts forward by instituting programs that promote low carbon diets, such as menu and grocery receipt carbon footprints, and using on-farm negative carbon compost applications to further incentivize waste reduction programs in the city. Our system will be used to generate a Life Cycle Analysis and an accompanying economic model that will optimize supply chains to cut costs, demonstrating how efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions can be made while still maintaining a strong economy. The cost of the technologies that we are promoting are relatively low, for instance on-farm agricultural technologies cost $2 - $200/ton of CO2 removed while dietary changes cost about $2.84 per day, especially, when compared to other CO2 capture approaches (e.g., direct air capture is >$500/ton of CO2 removed). Reducing emissions while simultaneously developing and deploying negative emission technologies will be necessary to reach climate stabilization goals set forth by the Paris Climate Agreement. Our food system is uniquely poised to make these changes in the timeframe necessary, using existing technology. As leaders in the field and having spent decades working on these topics locally, we believe we have the science to back these negative emission strategies as well as the state, industry and local farm partnerships to turn our research into action. We envision that such actions will develop the first negative emission food system in the city of Sacramento, generating a model system for rest of the world.

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email
  • Conference/event
  • Prize partners
  • WWF and personal conversations

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of Itika Gupta

Hi Maya Almaraz   welcome to the Food System Vision Prize Community!
It is lovely to see such a diverse group come together to build such a systemic vision for Sacramento's food system.
Did you get a chance to speak with the numerous stakeholders of your food system?
Since your Vision will be designed specifically for Sacramento and its People, it will be very valuable to understand the needs, aspirations, motivations, and challenges of your Place and its People. You can find some inspiration and tools to help you with your research in the Vision Prize Toolkit in Chapter 3 under Tools of Transformation. Here is the link to the Prize Toolkit:

Look forward to seeing your Vision evolve through the coming weeks.