Food Waste For Farms is a pilot project to link generators of commercial food waste with farms to utilize this nutrient rich asset as animal feed or compost material diverting it from the landfill. The goal is to use technology to optimize the systems for waste recovery, logistics and profitability.
Measurement objectives for environmental and societal impact for FWFF will be multiple important measurements:
1) In pounds of food diverted from landfills
2) In increased farm profitability through savings on animal feed
3) In new relationships established between waste generators and farmers
4) In increased soil fertility with compost application
Information will be tracked using the FWFF website weekly and through the two survey monkey questionnaires during the grant period. A final report will be shared in a public education meeting.
Educational & Outreach Activities
On November 7, 2015 we hosted a day long workshop Food Waste; A Northeast Ohio Conversation at Case Western Reserve Farm to enlighten and educate. This event had presenters from Ohio EPA, chefs, farmers, composters, horticulturalists and food distributors. Approximately 90 people attended.
The conference was promoted with an interview on a local farming/garden radio show, in print and online.
Two lectures were presented in the community and at the annual OEFFA conference in 2016.
In addition, eight You Tube videos were produced as part of the Food Waste for Farms You Tube Channel. These were farmer profiles and educational videos about the guidelines of feeding food waste to chickens, pigs, sheep and goats.These videos collectively have been viewed over 8,000 times since posted online.
Lesson #1 -This project was very challenging and was conceived prior to the arrival of economically feasible technologies (2014). The method of communication to farmers was through the use of a website as this was prior to apps being available for the movement and distribution of food waste. This proved to cause delays in pick up thereby leading to spoilage of the waste and frustrating communications between players. Now, with texts and apps this project would be more efficient.
Lesson #2- Over the course of the grant there were changes in personal or business/farm closures at over 70% of the participants. A key lesson we learned was that a food waste project needs a champion, actual people dedicated to the success of the work. When people leave an organization often the project stalls or is abandoned.
Lesson #3- The shorter the distance from the farmer to the food waste pick up the higher the likelihood of successful application. In a future grant it might be helpful to have a centralized cold storage facility to prevent waste and spoilage and provide support to manufacturers and farmers. We found the maximum distance for farmer satisfaction and efficient transport was 35 miles.
Lesson #4- Small farms often lack the infrastructure to move, and safely store, large quantities of food waste. Although there was great enthusiasm for salvaging food for animal feed the logistics of moving thousands of pounds of perishable and often wet food waste on an irregular schedule proved problematic.
Lesson #5- Although there was success in reducing the amount of organic waste that went to landfills the costs to the small farmer were too high in time, fuel, labor and equipment. At the end of the day this works on very small applications or on a bigger project at scale. Many of the medium sized farms had too much or not enough and this put pressure on already stressed existing systems.
This project was ended early after year one and not completed as it was deemed by the farmer participants not to be worth continuing. Although all the farmers that participated changed their farming practices and still include food waste as part of their farming, the lesson was learned that is is a challenging task. High turnover of staff and business/farm closures caused additional obstacles over the early stages of this grant.
A successful deliverable was the eight You Tube videos that were produced – the Food Waste for Farms You Tube Channel. These were farmer profiles and educational videos about the guidelines of feeding food waste to chickens, pigs, sheep and goats.These videos collectively have been viewed over 8,000 times since posted online.
Food waste is a very important issue and certainly an initiative that deserves future support from SARE. Any funding should be scale appropriate. One area that I feel has great promise for food waste initiatives is in coordination with schools, k-12 and institutions of higher learning.