- Author: Mimi M Enright
Recently, the head of a local food pantry shared with me how grateful they were to receive a donation of several hundred pounds of fresh tomatoes from a local farmer; the tomatoes were snapped up by food pantry clients within an hour. However, he was also shown a picture of hundreds of pounds of tomatoes that had not been captured in time for donation; instead the tomatoes were sitting in a compost pile at the farm. In this case, at least the farmer was composting the wasted tomatoes, but this story demonstrates that significant opportunities exist here in Sonoma County to improve the rate of recovered food that would otherwise end up in compost piles, or worse, in our landfill.
|Food Recovery Forum|
Like many other counties, Sonoma County struggles with the dichotomy of people going hungry -- 82,000 missed meals per year as estimated by Redwood Empire Food Bank -- while over 45,000 tons of food ends up in our landfill (per the 2014 Sonoma County Waste Characterization study). In recognition of this issue nationwide, the USDA and EPA recently established the nation's first food waste reduction goals – a target of 50% reduction by 2030.
Nearly 40% of food goes uneaten in the U.S. today (National Inst. Of Diabetes & Digestive & Kidney Diseases, 2009). Consumers most likely represent the largest portion of food waste, with food service (hospitality in specific such as weddings and conferences) coming close behind, followed by farms and retail (supermarkets) (Dana Gunders, NRDC, 2015). Food waste comprises one of the single largest components of U.S. solid waste contributing to methane emissions.
Food scraps in our local landfill accounted for 30% of the total waste in 2010; the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for organic materials ending up in the landfill equate to 4% of the total Sonoma countywide GHG emissions (Climate Action 2020 report, July 2016). According to the Sonoma County Climate Action report, “increasing population and employment means more solid waste and associated GHG emissions in the future without further action. Strategies to reduce waste generation, increase waste diversion from landfills (such as through recycling and composting)…are therefore essential parts of CA2020.”
This data points out the local (and nationwide issue) of food waste and associated GHG emissions, but it doesn't reflect all of the resources that go into growing our food (chemicals, energy, land, water, labor, etc.) that are also wasted when food ends up in our landfills. About 10% of the U.S. energy budgetgoes to producing, distributing, processing, preparing & preserving the plants & animals we consume (Michael Webber, Scientific American, 2011). “Even the most sustainably farmed food does us no good if the food is never eaten” (Gunders, 2012).
Creative solutions in Sonoma County are already helping address the food waste issue, such as CropMobster, developed by Nick Pappadapolous, which provides a free on-line platform for connecting surplus from suppliers in our local food chain. Several gleaning organizations are operating in Sonoma County – working both with homeowners & farmers to harvest produce that would go to waste & connecting that food with people in need via food pantries & non-profits. Food recovery is occurring through faith-based organizations, food pantries, non-profits, and Redwood Empire Food Bank, but there is no overall coordinated effort to provide solutions to facilitate food waste reduction across the County.
Our current food recovery model is predominantly based on non-profits which run with volunteers; non-profit food recovery efforts are under resourced. We need to build to a collaborative approach in support of the non-profits operating in this space. We also need to educate food businesses about the myth of liability issues when they are donating food.
We need to set food recovery as a priority – especially in regards to getting food to people in need. Farmers have excess produce to share; caterers have prepared food left over after large events; gleaners are looking at the key question of “where does the food go”; and all represent an opportunity to keep food out of the landfill to feed hungry people or animals.
In June 2016, UCCE Sonoma hosted a Food Recovery Forum in partnership with Redwood Empire Food Bank, CropMobster and Shed. This event gathered a group of dedicated people dedicated to discuss current obstacles and possible solutions to this problem in Sonoma County. A small group of individuals has been continuing the dialog to develop some of the ideas generated at the Food Recovery Forum into solutions for Sonoma County. Some of the solutions that the “Food Recovery Coalition” is working on for presentation to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors include:
- Map community resources: Create a County “landing portal” with directory & maps to resources in the food supply chain (specialty crops food producers, gleaners, grocery stores, restaurants, caterers, food pantries, pig farmers, compost facilities, etc.).
- Awareness campaign: Create a social & print media campaign to generate awareness of this issue (targeted at both consumer and business waste reduction).
- Mini-neighborhood hubs: Connect neighborhood resources such as community gardens, community kitchens, gleaners, food pantry, local chefs and farmers, business and schools, composting facilities to build smaller scale community connections for getting food that would go to waste to hungry people, animals or composting facilities.
- Expand gleaners' connections: Create a central resource of guidelines to support occasional gleaning by individuals/organizations.
- Pair farmers' markets with local non-profits: Pair each farmers' market with a local non-profit food redistribution organization.
- Cold storage network: Create a cold storage network for food recovery organizations for collection and preservation while it is waiting to be picked up by food distribution organizations.
- Liability education: Create a liability education campaign via the environmental health department to ensure that business understand the limited risks associated with food donation. Ensure there are no roadblocks for food donation in Sonoma County via a regulatory review.
- Infrastructure investment: Invest in food recovery infrastructure and capacity (as compared for example to composting and waste management infrastructure).
- Business incentives: Incentivize businesses to encourage more donations by creating a more robust food recovery system.
- Regional food recovery coordinators: Establish food recovery coordinators in each region of the County to build relationships and make connections for food recovery from farmers, grocery stores, restaurants, etc.
UCCE Sonoma recommends a countywide initiative to
create awareness of and generate solutions for
addressing the issue of food waste.
Food waste prevention can save natural resources, create jobs, alleviate hunger, conserve water, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (ReFED report, 2016). A focus on initiatives aimed at reducing food waste in Sonoma County would also positively impact two of the Sonoma County climate action goals by increasing solid waste diversion and reducing emissions from the consumption of good and services, including food.
A countywide food recovery effort will help us reduce:
- GHG emissions associated with food waste in our landfill
- the state of hunger in Sonoma County
- the waste of the natural & human resources associated with
growing & distributing our food.
If you are interested in learning more or getting involved
please contact Mimi Enright email@example.com 707-565-2880
On June 4, UC Cooperative Extension Sonoma County co-hosted gleaners and food rescuers from across California for the fourth annual Community Jam – a first for the event to be held in Sonoma County. Lively conversation filled the space at SoCo Nexus, Sonoma Mountain Village, in Rohnert Park as participants shared practices and vision for recovering fresh produce and other wholesome food.
Plenary sessions and the day's orchestration were facilitated by Julia Van Soelen Kim, UCCE North Bay Food Systems Advisor, and Mimi Enright, UCCE Program Manager for Community Food Systems and Master Gardeners partnered on the event, focusing on opportunities for synergy with local food recovery efforts. Other co-hosts included Farm to Pantry, Petaluma Bounty, Sonoma Food Runners, and the Sonoma Valley Gleaning Project.
Gleaning: gather (leftover grain or other produce) after a harvest.
Craig Diserens, founder of the Northern California Community Jam, reviewed the reasons why we glean. Estimates point to 58 billion pounds of unused produce in the United States each year, while one in seven Americans experience food insecurity. “Food recovery, food waste and food rescue are all hot topic's today,” he pointed out, and gleaning leaders have a “secret sauce” of attributes to carry the needed work forward. Considering today's participants, he identified “starting with abundance thinking” as crucial.
Diserens also pointed out a need to clarify the terms we use to speak of our work. “Food recovery” is the most general, “gleaning” refers to harvesting things that grow in or out of the ground, and “food rescue” indicates edibles that have already been harvested, processed or prepared. All reduce food waste by connecting surplus with those in need in our communities.
An afternoon panel of gleaning and food rescue leaders told stories of their work. Ally Gialketsis, Ventura County Branch Coordinator for Food Forward, spoke of the limits transportation imposes on what can be recovered from the wholesale Los Angeles Produce Market.
Julia Sanders, volunteer with San Francisco Food Runners, recounted how efforts in rescuing prepared food function at “the urgent level” and are best served by keeping communication simple in the dedication to a core mission. She also identified the need for food rescue and gleaning groups to strengthen cooperation.
Emily Wilson, an Americorps VIP fellow with GleanSLO, a program of the Food Bank Coalition of San Luis Obispo County, represented an organization that gleans both farms and backyards, recovering about 200,000 pounds of produce per year. She posited the need to reflect critically on our work, and how it may feed the food system we are seeking to change.
Suzi Grady of Petaluma Bounty, whose local Bounty Hunters gleaning program complements its work with Bounty Farm and a network of community gardens, echoed an observation made frequently throughout the day, the importance of building and maintaining relationships. Sometimes, Grady noted, our work is to promote an ethic of sharing by connect sources and recipients and stepping out of the way.
A thread of collaboration ran through the day as participants explored how to share leadership within their organizations, how to improve relationships in their communities, and how to engage other organizations as partners in their communities. In a summary session, Phina Borgeson, founder of Sonoma Valley Gleaning Project, reflected on the many ways collaboration was mentioned during the day, and the collaborative challenge to further the gleaning movement.
- Author: Mimi M Enright
Can you help us gather more information about current edible food waste in Sonoma County?
UCCE Sonoma is conducting a survey of members of our local food supply chain (farmers, ranchers, restaurants, caterers, institutions, non-profits involved in food recovery and redistribution, food pantries, food bank grocery stores) to gather data on the scope of the food waste reduction opportunity in Sonoma County.
If you'd like to participate, here's the survey link. We estimate the survey will take approximately 10 minutes of your time, and all responses are anonymous. Please participate by 5/27/16.
If you have comments or questions, contact Mimi Enright at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-565-2280.