When 1 in 7 people are going hungry in a country that throws out half the food it produces, there isn’t a supply problem; there’s a distribution problem. This was part of the hypothesis tested in a 2011 study conducted by former University of Colorado students Caleb Phillips and Becky Higbee. By looking at data collected through a local food rescue organization, the study found that large volumes of food were going to waste in northern Colorado because there wasn’t a well-coordinated effort capable of catching that food before it became completely unusable. The research team showed that, with funding and adequate labor, organized food rescue and redistribution efforts were not only possible at small and large scales, they could also capture enough potentially wasted food in Boulder and Broomfield Counties to feed everyone in that area.
On the wings of this information, Phillips and Higbee joined with friends Nora Lecesse, Helen Katich, and Hana Dansky to form Boulder Food Rescue. The project began with the same systems-minded approach as the study. The BFR crew met with local grocery store officials, whose stores were trashing unsold food, and asked why they wouldn’t choose to donate it instead. Some blamed the rules of local food banks, which prohibited donations of produce outside of its original packaging. Many more grocery managers lamented that food gone past a supermarket’s saleable standards is too perishable to survive the extended journey from store to food bank to plate. As the study had already shown, timing was key.
Food is food because it’s meant to be eaten. But all too often, what’s intended for the table ends up in the dumpster. To address the issue, a growing movement of developers is creating easy-to-operate tech tools to help people produce volumes of food with less surplus and rescue food that would typically go to waste.
Growing up in the corn and soy fields of rural Indiana, Andy Schwartz has seen first-hand what large-scale farming can do to soil quality. But it wasn’t until he managed farms of his own and made his own compost that Schwartz realized the role large-scale composting could play in keeping the quality of soil high and protecting the environment.
“When I made enough compost for myself and the food waste kept coming in I realized that I had to come up with a plan,” he says. “The plan was and is to keep valuable organic materials out of the landfill and use them to create a healthy growing medium for plants. Heirloom tomatoes and peppers from my garden are a much better outcome for food waste than producing methane gases and harmful leachates in a landfill.”
Determined to “feed the food that feeds you,” Schwartz studied successful composting projects around the country and launched Grow.Eat.Repeat, a compost pick-up company in Savannah, Georgia. With more than 300 restaurants, 100 hotels, and 50-plus schools in the city, Schwartz had no trouble identifying his primary market.
According to the National Resources Defense Council, Americans throw out roughly $165 billion worth of food each year, including 52 percent of all fruits and vegetables. While the majority of this waste is generated by producers and consumers, shipments of food rejected by wholesale produce buyers at grocery stores and other outlets also accounts for literal truckloads of food sent to the landfill because of a couple fuzzy strawberries, an off color, or other slight imperfections in the load.
To save this otherwise edible food from its fate as landfill fodder, a new mobile technology company called Food Cowboy has emerged to divert these rejected food shipments toward those in need. The company has created a smartphone app that connects truckers and other food donors like cafeterias and restaurants with charities who are able to accept the large loads of rejected but perfectly edible food.
“Truckers spend all this time moving food and they don’t want to just dump it,” says co-founder and health and nutrition expert Barbara Cohen.
When one thinks of the James Beard Awards that are yearly dispensed to the most distinguished and culinarily imaginative chefs and restaurants in the United States, food access and equity is not the first thing that comes to mind. But Katherine Miller, director of food policy advocacy for the James Beard Foundation, is working hard to alter this perception by aligning award winning chefs, many of whom wield significant power in the food policy arena, to make the high quality, local and healthy food more accessible to all.
“From a policy standpoint chefs and restaurant owners are major employers, so they have clout with congress and state legislators,” she says. “They’re a relevant force on the policy front—I want to see more chefs get involved.”
While citrus groves no longer dot the landscape, trees in backyards across Orange County, CA still yield an abundance of produce that sadly often goes to waste. But thanks to the efforts of the Harvest Club of Orange County, a volunteer-based organization that gleans fruit from neighborhood trees, much of this excess backyard bounty now goes to help feed the hungry.
The gleaning operation started informally in Huntington Beach.
“In 2009 a couple of friends had fruit trees they could not finish,” says Lindsey Harrison, coordinator of volunteers for the Harvest Club. “Others helped pick trees and donated extra fruit to the food bank.”
More and more neighbors got on board and as word spread, the organization began to grow and solidify. In 2011 the Harvest Club became a project of the Orange County Food Access Coalition (OCFAC). By this time Harvest Club’s coverage area had already expanded beyond its Huntington Beach roots, but the new association with OCFAC served to further boost its countywide presence.
Food equity is emerging as one of the most important social justice issues influencing the modern food system. It’s jarring that people throughout the United States are still unable to easily access healthy local produce when processed chips and soda can be bought at every corner store.
So Seedstock wanted to take the opportunity to recognize five organizations that are doing everything possible to get healthy, local produce in the hands of everyone who wants to eat well—no matter their location in a city.
1. Massachusetts Avenue Project & Growing Green
The Massachusetts Avenue Project & Growing Green’s (MAP) beginnings date all the way back to 1992. Although the Buffalo, New York organization’s start was modest—it was first classified as a “block club”—it is now a thriving nonprofit dedicated to growing food that nourishes while beautifying and bringing the neighborhood it resides in together. Although the organization has evolved over the years, it still aims to build food equity, while also engaging young people.
The relationship between manure and agriculture goes back almost as long as agriculture itself. Now it turns out that with a process known as anaerobic digestion, manure and other biodegradable materials may help farms and local governments recycle organic waste into several farm products, including electricity.
Anaerobic digestion is similar to the more familiar composting process, with one key difference. Composting depends on the presence of oxygen to create an environment for beneficial microorganisms that help break down organic matter like manure or food scraps.
Anaerobic digestion is different; by definition, it needs oxygen to be absent. It also works at lower temperatures, around 100 degrees Fahrenheit.