This article was written by PSC Student and Sustainability Assistant Hannah Rion
Do you ever think about the amount of food you produce in a day, a week, or a month? How about the amount of food that doesn’t even see a fork or spoon, but just gets tossed in the trash? That has been the sad story for the food scraps that are produced in our culinary labs here at Paul Smith’s College. In fact, three years ago there was a campus-wide program known as “Food Scraps for Pigs” where pre-consumer food waste from Cantwell, as well as the dining hall was being used by Atlas Hoofed It Farm, in Vermontville, NY, to feed pigs. There were challenges with pickup and consistent collection of scraps, so the program wasn’t continued, but recently Emily Sommer’s Farm to Table class has partnered with Sustainability Coordinator Kate Glenn and Jake Vennie-Vollrath of Moonstone Farm, to collect and donate our food scraps to Moonstone Farm for animal feed and compost.
The Farm to Table culinary class, part of the new two-year accelerated culinary program, was visiting Moonstone Farm on a monthly basis, “to get their hands dirty and learn more about the ins and outs of running a small farm in the Adirondacks”, as Jake explained to me. The class also started to brainstorm ideas on how to solve some of the problems the farm was facing. One of these lurking issues happened to be “inputs” and soil health, which Jake was currently sourcing compost from Vermont to solve. Thus caused Emily and the class to start thinking they could have a real potential impact if they were to start diverting the pre-consumer waste from the culinary labs here on campus to Moonstone Farm. Emily then mentioned the project to Kate Glenn, Sustainability Coordinator for the college, and so the wheels began to turn. Kate Glenn then organized a planning meeting with the facilities department, Sodexo, and Emily to develop and establish a written plan and procedures for the project. During the meeting it was discussed who would collect the buckets, how they would be delivered and other remaining logistics. With the purchase of five gallon buckets, funded by the Sustainability Grant, the project was officially up-and-running. Additionally, Kate brought in the support from Sodexo to have the dining hall’s pre-consumer food waste also be diverted to the farm.
“Moonstone Farm specializes in growing heirloom vegetables organically and healthy soils grow tastier vegetables”, says Jake. The food waste serves a variety of purposes on the farm, such as feeding chickens directly, feeding mealworms and black soldier flies which eventually feed the chickens, while the rest is “…composted to create organic matter for our greenhouses, hopyard, fruit trees/bushes, and vegetable fields.” In the short time of a month, the dining hall has collected 218.2 pounds of pre-consumer food waste thanks to the help of Sodexo employees. Meanwhile, the Culinary Department has gathered 251.2 pounds with the help of students and instructors. Evidently, this diversion of food waste is serving an extremely more purposeful objective than it would sitting in a landfill spewing off methane gas Furthermore, this practice allows for a decrease in the heavy food waste facilities has to dispose of, and can be reflected on the college’s Greenhouse Gas Report, which tracks the production of methane.
Pre-consumer food waste is often overlooked when discussing composting practices, causing it to become a growing problem. This type of composting specifically focuses on the scraps that are a byproduct of food preparation. Food loss and waste accounts for about 4.4 gigatonnes of greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) per year. To put this in perspective, if food loss and waste were its own country, it would be the world’s third-largest GHG emitter – surpassed only by China and the United States” (“Food Waste Facts”). A large portion of this food waste could be gold for many farmers in helping them restore nutrients to their soil. Jake shares that, “Not only is reducing food waste (or redirecting it to better uses) economically smart, it might be the easiest thing that we can do to address global warming.” The implementation of more programs like these across the United States is essential to help combat the negative effects of food waste. This project serves as a perfect example of discovering an issue and developing a working solution.
Both Emily and Jake believe the program is working extremely well, however, they share high hopes for the future. Jake shared with me that this partnership has inspired him to “think bigger” and someday he hopes “…to soon obtain all of PSC’s food waste for composting and assist the college in making it completely food waste free.” The farm is also currently working on plans for a larger drum composter that could handle more volume and produce compost more efficiently than the existing compost piles. As for Emily and her Farm to Table class, she says, “The main reason for our Farm to Table class was so that the students can appreciate more where their food is coming from, how much work goes into getting it in their fridges and on their tables. So adding the composting buckets was just another step into appreciating our food that much more.”
The Smitty Sustainability Committee fully supports the efforts of all the people involved in this project, especially the students who are filling the buckets with proper pre-consumer food scraps. The committee is currently working with the dining hall to design an effective program to tackle post-consumer food waste on campus. We will be implementing a separate bin labeled compost and providing signage that educates students on what they can scrape into the bin later in the spring semester. Combating food waste is an extremely critical issue that needs action sooner, rather than later. By keeping the conversation and programs like this going, everyone involved hopes to have a significant positive impact.
Would you like to make a difference on campus? You can learn more about the possibility of funding from the Sustainability Grant by reaching out to Hannah Rion, Sustainability Grant and Office Assistant, at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting https://www.paulsmiths.edu/sustainability/campus-sustainability-fund/