Food Recovery — Why We Need To Care About Composting

Posted November 19, 2021 at 5:53 am by

The fol­low­ing is sub­mit­ted by San Juan Island res­i­dent Ang­ie Light with the Tran­si­tion San Juan Waste Reduc­tion Group…

My fam­i­ly and I are new to the island, and one of the many char­ac­ter­is­tics of San Juan that we love is the access to won­der­ful farms and farm­ers. Many an evening our fam­i­ly meal is made entire­ly from pro­duce grown right here, in this soil, on this land by skilled and pas­sion­ate peo­ple. I feel abun­dance and grat­i­tude for our family’s abil­i­ty to live by the true mean­ing of “farm to table.” 

While this pic­ture is dreamy, there’s anoth­er side to it that’s not utopic. It became glar­ing­ly clear that the scraps left over from our food cre­ate a whole lot of hefty weight in our garbage. Our beau­ti­ful food sto­ry unfor­tu­nate­ly does not end hap­pi­ly with our farm to table bliss. It takes an alarm­ing turn that con­tin­ues with tons and tons of garbage bags rid­ing the fer­ry back to the main­land. Filled with food waste, these garbage bags then trav­el by train to east­ern Wash­ing­ton where they are buried in a land­fill — a not so hap­py ending. 

The ques­tion of how to keep our food out of our garbage quick­ly became an all-con­sum­ing con­cern for me.  And why should you and I care about keep­ing food out of our garbage bags and chang­ing this sad end­ing to the sto­ry?  Three words: envi­ron­ment, finances, humanity…

The US Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture esti­mates that 133 bil­lion pounds of food equal­ing about 161–165 bil­lion dol­lars’ worth each year is thrown away!  That means that 30–40% of the food sup­ply in Amer­i­ca is either not har­vest­ed and left to rot due to imper­fec­tions, or wast­ed in homes — and then thrown into land­fills.  I have read esti­mates from World Vision that the aver­age sin­gle-fam­i­ly house­hold in North Amer­i­ca wastes 600 pounds of food per year.  Per house­hold this equals rough­ly $135 per month in the trash along with that uneat­en and wast­ed food. 

The real hor­ror behind the bil­lions of pounds of food waste is the fact that any food or organ­ic mat­ter that finds its way into land­fills cre­ates methane, a tox­ic green­house gas.  In 2017 the U.S. Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency issued data show­ing that food is the sin­gle largest cat­e­go­ry of mate­r­i­al placed in munic­i­pal land­fills cre­at­ing the third-largest source of human-relat­ed methane emis­sions in the US.  Methane emis­sions are the sec­ond most tox­ic source of green­house gas­es and a direct link to cli­mate change.  Food needs to avoid landfills. 

I know many of us would agree that learn­ing to live a more sus­tain­able life is absolute­ly nec­es­sary, and it is also extreme­ly chal­leng­ing.  How­ev­er, keep­ing food out of land­fills is in fact very achiev­able.  It’s low hang­ing fruit, so-to-speak, (yes, pun intend­ed!). To farm­ers and gar­den­ers alike, com­post, or the break­down of organ­ic mat­ter into its most potent nutri­tion­al form, is black gold.  It’s incred­i­bly impor­tant to the pro­duc­tion of healthy soil need­ed to grow suc­cess­ful crops.  That rot­ting mess of unused let­tuce in your fridge is not waste, it’s a har­vest wait­ing to happen. 

There are many ways to com­post such as worm bins, aer­o­bic bins or turn­ing a bar­rel.  Some are pas­sion­ate about mak­ing their own com­post right in their gar­dens, but for a lot of us, my fam­i­ly includ­ed, that’s just not pos­si­ble.  At least it wasn’t — until I learnt about Fed­eri­co Farms, right here in San Juan island.

Fed­eri­co Farms is offer­ing an excit­ing and unique com­post­ing pro­gram tak­ing not only the usu­al sus­pects of food scraps, but also meat, meat by-prod­ucts, and dairy.  Fed­eri­co Farm knows my left­over sal­ad and chick­en bones from din­ner, the kids’ half-eat­en turkey sand­wich, and the well-intend­ed wilt­ing remains of cilantro in my fridge are ener­gy and nutri­ents for their farm soils. Through a com­post­ing process of fer­men­ta­tion with spe­cial­ist bac­te­ria, the break­down of organ­ic mat­ter hap­pens more effi­cient­ly.  This in turn allows the har­vest­ed com­post, and all those rich nutri­ents, to be put back into the soil faster. The food scraps left over from the food I pur­chased from either Fed­eri­co Farms or any oth­er farm on the island is har­vest­ed to cre­ate soil amend­ment for future crops. What a win for every­one — con­sumers, farm­ers and the environment! 

But it can’t just stop there! There are many com­mu­ni­ties in our cor­ner of the world that offer indus­tri­al com­post­ing pro­grams.  And there is a very real neces­si­ty and glar­ing oppor­tu­ni­ty for San Juan Coun­ty, Fri­day and Roche Har­bor to take more action to address the need for a larg­er scale indus­tri­al com­post­ing pro­gram.  This would not only help cap­ture food waste from larg­er oper­a­tions such as gro­cery stores and restau­rants, but also all that well-intend­ed com­postable pack­ag­ing.  As good as com­postable pack­ag­ing is, if there’s not a place for it to be com­post­ed, all that pack­ag­ing is in fact still garbage. 

And what about human­i­ty? How does that all come into the equa­tion?  The group Feed­ing Amer­i­ca esti­mates that 38 mil­lion peo­ple face hunger today in the Unit­ed States.  Recov­er­ing food not able to be sold by farms or gro­cery stores for mar­ket­ing rea­sons and mak­ing it acces­si­ble for those in need is help­ing to take care of those in our com­mu­ni­ty and keep­ing that usable food out of the land­fill.  There are sev­er­al fan­tas­tic orga­ni­za­tions nation­wide that have made it their mis­sion to recov­er food from farms and gro­cery stores and get it direct­ly to those who need it.  Here on the island there is the San Juan Island Food Bank, the San Juan Island Food Hub and the Nour­ish to Flour­ish pro­gram all who talk direct­ly with farm­ers, local busi­ness­es and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to help high­light farm­ers and their pro­duce and to help access food that could be gleaned or donat­ed for those who are in need of it. 

You might say, but we’re just a small com­mu­ni­ty and what we do won’t make that much of a dif­fer­ence.  It makes a dif­fer­ence to our pre­cious island and marine envi­ron­ment that is not immune to cli­mate change. It makes a dif­fer­ence to the farm­ers mak­ing a liv­ing grow­ing our food. It makes a dif­fer­ence to the chil­dren access­ing the lunch pro­gram at school. It makes a dif­fer­ence to us all finan­cial­ly through the cost­ly resources used to deal with our garbage and the costs to mit­i­gate dam­age done by our garbage.  Small local actions build big change envi­ron­men­tal­ly, finan­cial­ly and socially.

To take action now on com­post­ing for San Juan Island, let our town, coun­ty, and port rep­re­sen­ta­tives know that it’s time to get seri­ous about an indus­tri­al com­post­ing sys­tem.  Then, con­tact Fed­eri­co Farm where you can either request to pur­chase a 5 gal­lon com­post buck­et from them ($15), or sim­ply use your own. Toss that sog­gy let­tuce in and sprin­kle some of the inoc­u­lant ($5 a bag and pur­chased in their farm store) on top each time you add scraps.  Once your bin is full ‑our fam­i­ly of 4 fills a 5 gal­lon buck­et each week- head out to Fed­eri­co Farms and dump it into their com­post bins.  This is def­i­nite­ly not curb­side pick-up, but come on folks, noth­ing is far on this island, how­ev­er, your efforts are far reaching.

Tak­ing our com­post bin out to Fed­eri­co Farms once a week has become a fun and ful­fill­ing fam­i­ly rit­u­al.  We dump the com­post, pick up eggs and oth­er good­ies, chat with the farm­ers and dri­ve home know­ing we’ve built a much bet­ter end­ing for our food sto­ry.  Because no part of food is waste, it’s a har­vest wait­ing to grow.  Let’s keep our food out of land­fills and recov­er those nutri­ents, those dol­lars and our humanity!

You can support the San Juan Update by doing business with our loyal advertisers, and by making a one-time contribution or a recurring donation.

One comment...

  1. Great piece with back­ground and good, prac­ti­cal advice! I hope a coun­ty-wide pro­gram gets start­ed. In the mean­time, we’ll be look­ing at the Fed­eri­co Farms option as well as the Lomi home com­poster:

    Comment by David F W Robison on November 19, 2021 at 12:10 pm

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

By submitting a comment you grant the San Juan Update a perpetual license to reproduce your words and name/web site in attribution. Inappropriate, irrelevant and contentious comments may not be published at an admin's discretion. Your email is used for verification purposes only, it will never be shared.

Receive new post updates: Entries (RSS)
Receive followup comments updates: RSS 2.0