The holidays are always a good time to revisit the amount of waste we generate in this country because probably at no other time during the year is more waste produced than during the holidays. Its a good reminder too that no longer is recycle the operative word but REDUCE! If we consume less, there's less energy and resources used to produce and less stuff to throw away. NPR's Science Friday with Ira Flatow had a great interview this past Friday, November 23rd about the amount of food wasted in the United States. Here is a link to the podcast.
On the show was Dana Gunders, Project Scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Jonathan Bloom, author of American Wasteland
. Over 40% of the food produced in the US gets thrown away and only 3% of it gets recycled or composted .When you consider that 50% of
the land in the US is in agricultural production, we are squandering a lot land not to mention a lot of food. In the process, we are exploiting the natural resources used to produce that food such as fossil fuels for farm equipment, water for irrigation and soil fertility. And with water becoming a finite resource, its scary to think that 80% of the water used in this country goes to growing food.
To bring that into perspective, Project Scientist, Dana Gunders, made a great reference point, "Throwing away half a hamburger is equivalent to taking a one hour shower for the amount of water needed to produce that half a hamburger." Jonathan followed that up with another staggering statistic, "The amount of food wasted each year in the United Sates could fill up Crater Lake twice...TWICE!! Food gets wasted at every step along the supply chain starting on the farm then at the grocery store and in our homes. On the Farm, f
ood goes unharvested in the fields either because there was a surplus with no buyer or the price per bushel is too low to make it financially feasible to harvest. In the grocery store, tons of food gets thrown away each day simply because it has past a "suggested" Best If Used By date. Documentaries like DIVE
expose this wasteful scenario and the dumpster divers who feed their families "well" off this trash but also rescue it for food banks and pantries. And we know all too well the amount of food that we each waste in our own homes. We buy in bulk because it is a good deal and then it goes bad in our refrigerators. And we don't plan meals properly. We buy a bunch of carrots when we only need one or buy a bunch of cilantro for one recipe but don't find a recipe later in the week which will use up the rest of the cilantro. We are all trying to save money. But before we say we can't afford organic, think about all the money we are throwing away in the food we buy. Over $165 billion dollars gets thrown away each year in the United States. With food costs rising, consumers need to be more conscious, grocery stores need to be more
thoughtful in how they transition expired food and our agricultural industry needs to efficiently manage their land and water resources.
In this context, when we talk about feeding the world, we don't have to look much further than the end of our forks!
Nothing gets me more fired up then a farm tour. Yesterday I traveled to North San Juan outside of Nevada City, CA to pick-up veggies from Mountain Bounty Farm
for our annual Slow Food Lake Tahoe
Mountain Bounty Farm is Tahoe's largest CSA program (Community Supported Agriculture) with close to 400 veggie shares. Owner, John Tecklin, is also a big supporter of all things Slow Food managing a 15-acre, organic farm.
For a budding farmer, I soaked up everything John was saying as we toured the rolling fields inquiring about planting tips, trellising ideas and crop suggestions. I was enamored by the abundance. Acres and acres of food popping out of the ground. It was glorious! No better time to be on a farm than late Spring...everything is so green and a cool breeze still lingers in the air before the dog days of summer settle in. As we passed by a row of lettuces, John volunteered the role a food hub could play in his business. I was delighted to hear his interest...John is a successful direct-to-consumer farmer not needing to depend on
other retail markets to make a living. As much as I want a farmer like John to participate in the food hub, a part of me thought he may not have the need. On the contrary!
John Tecklin - Mountain Bounty Farm, North San Juan Ridge, CA
He may not need a food hub to make a living but it is not to say he doesn't have food to contribute or that he doesn't see an opportunity to make a little more money...He points to the row of lettuce and says, " See this crop here, we will harvest it tomorrow but we only need 2/3 of it. The rest will get turned under as green manure. My first priority is my obligation to deliver quality, on-time produce to my customers not to manage the wasted food. But it kills me to see it go uneaten,"
John plants six successions of crops in a summer. That way he has a new crop to harvest every two weeks. He has to plant enough in each succession to factor in crop failure, low yields and last minute orders. But when the crop comes in full and healthy, what do you do with the surplus?
He doesn't have orders lined up for surplus. Nor is it cost effective to call around trying to sell a few heads here and a few heads there to area restaurants. But one call to a food hub and that's 1000 more heads of lettuce in the regional food system and $750 more in the bank account of a small farmer. It affirmed even more the necessity of a food hub...to rescue the food that goes unharvested.
When we talk about feeding the world, we don't need to look much further than the amount of food wasted in this country. The average hovers around 40%. As we just saw, the waste starts on the farm. Once at market and after it pasts its sell-by-date, it gets thrown away. What makes it home, often times doesn't get eaten and spoils. If we just learned to manage our food better, we could feed a lot more people. And organic farmers like John Tecklin are proving you can grow strong yields sustainably. Combined with a food hub to help move food through a community more equitably and we've solved a lot more than one farmer's dilemma!
Billy McCullough - owner/chef, Dragonfly Restaurant
A COUPLE SIDE STORIES...Side Story #1:
On the drive home, NPR's Neil Cohen was interviewing first lady, Michelle Obama on Talk of the Nation
. It couldn't have been more timely. Until listening to her, I was starting to think her backyard garden, school lunch and Let's Move campaigns were little more than green washing. But hearing her speak, helped me see how genuine she is in her quest. She talked about the initial transition that she made with her family from processed foods to whole, natural and real foods. It wasn't easy but they did it together. They worked in the garden together, went to farmer's markets together and experimented in the kitchen together. By including her kids in the process and not just making them eat their broccoli, they transformed.
Kids are adaptable! They aren't callused with years of poor diets like adults whose eating habits are hard to breakdown. They can change and they can help lead the change. With the parents involved, the kids will change and they will be hardwired to lead healthier lifestyles. "It starts with the kids," Michelle commented.
My favorite part of the interview was an anecdote she shared from a garden class she had at the White House, "I asked the kids, would you water your plants with soda? And they all crinkled their noses, shook their heads and said no! I reminded them, we are living organisms too just like those plants. What you feed the plants, like our own bodies, affects how it grows." Hearing her retell the story, gave me goose pimples just thinking about all the light bulbs that were going off in the brains of those little kids standing in that garden on the front lawn.Side Story #2:
To bring the conversation full circle, and then I will close...tonight at the Slow Food event mentioned earlier, "Cooking Outside the Box, "Chef Billy McCullough of Dragonfly Restaurant
in Truckee, CA, took the veggies of Mountain Bounty Farm's CSA box and created the most delicious and simple recipes."Many of my recipes include just five, whole ingredients. I like to keep it basic and let the flavors shine," he said.
Six tastings were paired with local wines for people to savor. He blew everyone away with samples of scalloped turnips and curried carrot salad but the showstopper of the night was the thin slivers of golden beets stuffed like raviolis with herbed, goat, cheese drizzled with balsamic vinegar and dressed with fresh arugula! Oh my goodness!
As he addressed the crowd during his cooking demo, he advocated for the importance of good, clean and fair food. "We are co-producers of our food! The choices we make drives what is produced. Safeway didn't start carrying organic because they wanted to save the world. They did it because they saw a business opportunity. There was a demand for better, healthier, more ecologically grown. By embracing our role in the produce what we eat, we can change the way food is grown.
Here is the last in a series of articles that recently ran in the Spring 2012 issue of Edible Reno-Tahoe. When I was first assigned this story, it seemed pretty cut and dry, a discrepancy between Waste Management and one of their commercial customers. But when I would talk to one person, their story wouldn't corroborate with the person before so I kept looping back and that would lead me to someone else. It quickly became an investigative report. After my fifth call back to some people, they commented, "You probably didn't know what you were unearthing when you accepted this story, huh?" No, but I enjoyed unraveling the knot and piecing the puzzle together. Here is the first part of the story but for the complete version, click here.
When managers at Great Basin Brewing Company in Reno, NV contracted with Castaway Trash Hauling to take its food and beverage waste to RT Donovan Company's regional composting facility in Sparks, it seemed to be an appropriate business-to-business move. But when Waste Management of Reno got wind of the transaction it called into question, "Who owns the garbage?" Leaders at such environmentally friendly businesses as Great Basin Brewing are conscious of the byproduct their services generate. Great Basin, for one, constantly is looking for ways to recycle as much waste as possible.
"We currently recycle between 93 to 95 percent of our waste," says Tom Young, owner of Great Basin Brewing in Reno and Sparks. "And we are investigating ways to reduce that even further."
But when Great Basin Brewing managers first contacted Waste Management officials to manage their organic waste back in the summer of 2010, Waste Management officials were not set up to service such a small account. That did not change the fact that the Great Basin folks still wanted to compost their organic waste. They needed an alternative and looked to Castaway in Sparks to do the job.Read the rest of the article online at Edible Reno-Tahoe, click here:
Me showing off my notes for worm composting!
When I first arrived back into Tahoe last fall after being on tour for my independent study, I met with the editor for Edible Reno-Tahoe magazine, Amanda Burden. When she asked if I wanted to do a few articles dealing with compost, I thought maybe I was wearing a sign on my forehead that says, "I love compost!" She must have read my blog to know my obsession. Regardless, I jumped at the chance. Here is the beginning of one of those articles. You can read the complete story online in the Spring 2012 issue. Click here or grab a copy if you live nearby!
To the naked eye, vegetable and fruit scraps may look like garbage but really they are just undecomposed soil. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, Americans toss out 15 percent of their food annually. Within the entire food system, waste comprises nearly 40 percent when factoring in overproduction and expired food. In addition most yard waste (leaves, grass clippings, and branches) ends up at the dump, too. What a waste of waste!
We need to not only manage our food supply better, but also divert as much organic material away from landfills where it generates methane, a greenhouse gas. Instead, we should turn it into a renewable resource that can organically fertilize our soil to grow our food.For the rest of the article, click here
Composting windrows at Full Circle Compost in Minden, NV
I wrote this article for the Rodale Institute. Start it here but finishing reading it there. It just got posted to their website today!
In an effort to overcome the economic downturn and scarcity of available jobs, many Americans are seeking opportunities in ecologically-minded businesses. Green tech and organic farming are two communities that have experienced continued growth in this era of corporate belt-tightening. Another industry is on the rise, albeit a less visible one: Regional composting facilities.
More than 600 compost facilities are registered with the US Composting Council. According to a 2010 report by BioCycle, a national composting and renewable energy magazine, there were more than 2,000 composting facilities in just the thirty states it polled. With stats like that, estimates could well exceed 4,000 nationwide. Some are fledgling businesses, while others are established businesses. But, if we are going to wean ourselves off synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, we are going to need a lot more compost to apply to our crops and fields. Regional composting facilities provide the answer....Read the rest of the article on the Rodale Institute website: Click Here!
Sexy, isn't she? This is the Somat Pulper 3000. Okay, it's just called the Somat Pulper
but 3000 better describes its powers. It looks like a widget maker but this little beauty gives a whole new meaning to "it slices, it dices." Feed it a mixture of food scraps and paper products and it will excrete a pulpy slurry that can be used in farming and garden compost. It's being used by institutions like schools, corporate dining rooms, hospitals, etc. that want to reclaim their food waste. Not only does it save them money at the dump but it is good for the earth too. No, I didn't see it on a rerun of Home Improvement with Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor - although it is right up his alley - but I did see it an unveiling yesterday at Oberlin College's dining hall. It was the
inaugural demonstration. Oohs and aahhs went up from those in attendance as the waste went in and even smaller waste spat out. The water used to process the waste is recycled versus being flushed down the drain like a conventional, garbage disposal. The Pulper can handle not only fruits and vegetables but also meat, dairy, napkins, cardboard, paper plates and even the bones. Typically, meat and dairy can't go in regular composting projects because there is not enough heat generated to break them down. But with the pulper, everything gets pulverized allowing the meat and dairy to decompose easier requiring less heat. The process is speed up even faster when composting with earthworms known as vermiculture
. The relationship between Oberlin College and George Jones Memorial Farm where I work is the ultimate closed loop...food comes in from George Jones to the college cafe and then goes back as vermiculture compost. Pretty nifty!I haven't visited a college dining hall since i graduated in 1992. Boy, have things come a long way. Felt more like a restaurant than a cafeteria. I realize that Oberlin is not indicative of most colleges but it is a good model to follow. In advance of the pulper's arrival,
Oberlin initiated two policies to make students more aware of how much food is wasted when they take more than will be eaten...first, food scraps were collected and weighed in effort to challenge students to reduce their food waste
and second, trays were removed so students could take only what they could carry. Programs like this were the collaborative brain child of both Oberlin staff and their ecologically conscious dining service, Bon Appetit Management
The dining hall is called a "cafe" versus a "cafeteria" to suggest an eating experience instead of just a feeding. Bon Appetit creates a space where food can be appreciated...recessed and natural light, appetizing displays and stories about the food and where it comes from - as pictured here with Executive Chef, Dean Holliday. Dean told me how the college sources 23% of their food locally
. "Local" is defined by Oberlin as food purchased within 150 miles or from companies smaller than $5 million. In addition to George Jones and other area farms there is a campus garden and a kitchen garden for easy, on-site picking. To get local food in the off-season, they enlist the technology of companies like CIFT
which can flash freeze vegetables such as beans, peas, strawberries and more during the summer/fall harvest which can later be enjoyed in winter months. It's frontier days meets the 21st century!