Tom Steyer is planning to spend $100 million in the next election to take down those who stand in the way of clean energy. He and wife Kathryn Taylor will also sell you some high-quality cuts of grass-fed beef. The two things actually dovetail quite nicely, and in combination, say a lot about the couple’s philanthropy.
Steyer and Kathryn Taylor are a philanthropic power couple, both through their personal donations and their foundation, the Tomkat Charitable Trust. They cite their big issues as “good food, good banking and good energy,” which in a way all come together at TomKat Ranch, their 1,800-acre working ranch in Northern California. While known as a clean energy firebrand, all of Tomkat’s giving really boils down to figuring out sustainable systems—whether that’s in agriculture, finance or energy.
TomKat Ranch began as a microcosmic experiment in whether such sustainability was possible even on the scale of one, albeit extremely wealthy, family. They wanted to see how self-contained and beneficial they could make an agricultural project, by generating solar power, using cattle to increase carbon sequestration in the soil, and coordinating livestock to enrich the land.
And it just so happens that in doing so, they’ve been able to sell a ton of their certified grass-fed beef, according to a recent New York Times profile, doing pretty well at a business that has historically become less and less profitable. It’s hard to say whether TomKat Ranch is the utopia it sounds like, or if it’s the kind of business that can scale without billionaires running it. But the experiment is very indicative of TomKat’s greater philanthropy goals.
Tom Steyer has said that he doesn’t think of what they do as philanthropy, or doing someone a “kindness.” They want to fund things that solve problems—things that work.
That explains the huge investments they’ve sunk into climate change and energy, namely to Yale and Stanford for research. Tomkat Charitable Trust also gives millions to groups like the Energy Foundation, 350.org, and Center for American Progress for energy policy and advancing the industry.
But it also explains their huge funding for sustainable agriculture and food systems. Aside from funding TomKat Ranch, the Tomkat Charitable Trust makes several grants a year to groups like the Center for Food Safety, the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, the Sustainable Food Alliance, and the Center for Ecoliteracy, all to improve our food systems.
So while solar power and cows may seem unrelated, they’re actually two sides of the same coin for a funder like Tomkat. They’re trying to solve the daunting problem of how, on a massive scale, we can live comfortably, protect the land, feed ourselves, and stop massive amounts of carbon from entering the atmosphere.
Tomkat Ranch doesn't have all the answers, but Steyer and Taylor hope they can fund projects that might. In the meantime, they serve up a fine porterhouse.