How These Farms Are Working to Fight Food Waste
Jose A. Bernat Bacete / Moment / Getty Images
By Bridget Shirvell
On a farm in upstate New York, a cheese brand is turning millions of pounds of food scraps into electricity needed to power its on-site businesses. Founded by eight families, each with their own dairy farms, Craigs Creamery doesn't just produce various types of cheddar, mozzarella, Swiss and Muenster cheeses, sold in chunks, slices, shreds and snack bars; they're also committed to becoming a zero-waste operation.
Located on Noblehurst Farms, about 500 feet from dairy cows, this creamery is home to the only biodigester in the U.S. that uses cow manure and food scraps from the cheese-making process and local businesses to create electricity. Since 2014, Noblehurst Farms has recycled 20 million pounds of food scraps in its biodigester.
"For many years, our farms have focused on producing high-quality milk while nurturing the land, but we wanted to know where our milk was going once it left our farms," said farmer and Craigs Creamery partner Chris Noble. "The cheese brand was a way to do that and diversify our businesses by investing in something that wasn't just focused on farming."
From ugly greens to zero-waste dinners to food scrap pizza, more and more consumers, businesses and nonprofits are looking for ways to repurpose food that would otherwise go to waste. On average, an individual American wastes one pound of food each day, which is enough to feed two billion people annually. Put another way, if food waste were a country, its greenhouse gas emissions would rank third in the world, after the U.S. and China. But while there has been increased attention on wasted food on plates, food waste happens at every stage of the supply chain, starting on the farm.
Take, for instance, the urban farm greenhouses of Gotham Greens in Brooklyn and Queens. The farm crew often finds greens with a bit of bruising or pest damage when they harvest their lettuce, arugula and other leafy greens. Years ago, they would use what they could from those greens for team meals, but since 2016, they've also been selling them at supermarkets, including Key Food and Whole Foods Market, under the label "Ugly Greens (Are Beautiful)," at up to 40 percent off.
Like Gotham Greens, Noblehurst Farms saw waste and was determined to find a way to use it. About five years ago, it started a sister business, Natural Upcycling, that collects food waste and scraps from local businesses, including Wegmans, for composting. Today, that food waste, along with animal manure, waste water and whey that can't be used by Craigs Creamery, goes into the biodigester. It all gets mixed together (there's a specific ratio of each ingredient) and heated up (where the bacteria eat solid waste materials to produce a gas that is drawn off the top) to fuel the 450-kilowatt electric generator that powers the 14,000-square-foot creamery, barns and houses on the property. What's left over also gets used: The liquid fertilizes crops, and the solids are dried to provide textiles, such as bedding for the cows. "We want to be able to tell a sustainable, closed-loop story of trying to power facilities with green energy," said Noble.
As they continue to work toward becoming a zero-waste facility, Craigs Creamery is recycling some of the water waste from the creamery and turning it into clean drinking water for its cows. "We're always looking at what else we can do and, so far, I think we've been pretty innovative for the dairy industry," said Noble.
From Ugly Greens to Spent Grains
Over the past few years, consumers, businesses and nonprofits have sought ways to repurpose food that might otherwise go to waste. Here are just a few of the other ways that farms like Noblehurst Farms and Gotham Greens, breweries and vineyards are using food scraps to reduce food waste.
Ugly Fruit Tree Top, a grower-owned fruit cooperative in the heart of apple country in Washington, has been saving "ugly fruit" from landfills since the 1960s, drastically cutting back on food waste and saving valuable space in landfills. What's ugly to some is beautiful, tasty food to everyone else — it just takes gumption to do things right.
Beer Waste Brooklyn-based Strong Rope Brewery is one of a number of New York breweries partnering with the start-up Rise to turn spent grains (a byproduct of making brew) into flours and decadent brownies. Similarly, in San Francisco, ReGrained uses spent grain from area breweries to make snacks.
Imperfect Produce Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative in Pennsylvania works closely with Baldor Foods to reduce waste through Baldor's Imperfect Produce program. Baldor, one of the largest produce distributors in the Northeast, has eliminated food waste through programs like SparCs (where tomato tops, celery butts, carrot shavings and other produce scraps are repurposed for humans and animals) and Imperfect Produce.
Excess Melons Arizona farmer John Boelts grows leafy greens and melons — foods that often need to be shipped within 36 hours of harvesting, which is not always possible. Boelts and other Arizona farmers have donated six to seven million pounds of vegetables to food banks that would otherwise go to waste.
Reposted with permission from our media associate Modern Farmer.
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By D. André Green II
One of nature's epic events is underway: Monarch butterflies' fall migration. Departing from all across the United States and Canada, the butterflies travel up to 2,500 miles to cluster at the same locations in Mexico or along the Pacific Coast where their great-grandparents spent the previous winter.
Millions of People Care About Monarchs<p>I will never forget the sights and sounds the first time I visited monarchs' overwintering sites in Mexico. Our guide pointed in the distance to what looked like hanging branches covered with dead leaves. But then I saw the leaves flash orange every so often, revealing what were actually thousands of tightly packed butterflies. The monarchs made their most striking sounds in the Sun, when they burst from the trees in massive fluttering plumes or landed on the ground in the tussle of mating.</p><p>Decades of educational outreach by teachers, researchers and hobbyists has cultivated a generation of monarch admirers who want to help preserve this phenomenon. This global network has helped restore not only monarchs' summer breeding habitat by planting milkweed, but also general pollinator habitat by planting nectaring flowers across North America.</p><p>Scientists have calculated that restoring the monarch population to a stable level of about 120 million butterflies will require <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/icad.12198" target="_blank">planting 1.6 billion new milkweed stems</a>. And they need them fast. This is too large a target to achieve through grassroots efforts alone. A <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/CCAA.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">new plan</a>, announced in the spring of 2020, is designed to help fill the gap.</p>
Pros and Cons of Regulation<p>The top-down strategy for saving monarchs gained energy in 2014, when the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service <a href="https://www.fws.gov/southeast/pdf/petition/monarch.pdf" target="_blank">proposed</a> listing them as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A decision is expected in December 2020.</p><p>Listing a species as endangered or threatened <a href="https://www.fws.gov/endangered/esa-library/pdf/listing.pdf" target="_blank">triggers restrictions</a> on "taking" (hunting, collecting or killing), transporting or selling it, and on activities that negatively affect its habitat. Listing monarchs would impose restrictions on landowners in areas where monarchs are found, over vast swaths of land in the U.S.</p><p>In my opinion, this is not a reason to avoid a listing. However, a "threatened" listing might inadvertently threaten one of the best conservation tools that we have: public education.</p><p>It would severely restrict common practices, such as rearing monarchs in classrooms and back yards, as well as scientific research. Anyone who wants to take monarchs and milkweed for these purposes would have to apply for special permits. But these efforts have had a multigenerational educational impact, and they should be protected. Few public campaigns have been more successful at raising awareness of conservation issues.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="91165203d4ec0efc30e4632a00fdf57d"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/KilPRvjbMrA?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
The Rescue Attempt<p>To preempt the need for this kind of regulation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service approved a <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/pdfs/Monarch%20CCAA-CCA%20Public%20Comment%20Documents/Monarch-Nationwide_CCAA-CCA_Draft.pdf" target="_blank">Nationwide Candidate Conservation Agreement for Monarch Butterflies</a>. Under this plan, "rights-of-way" landowners – energy and transportation companies and private owners – commit to restoring and creating millions of acres of pollinator habitat that have been decimated by land development and herbicide use in the past half-century.</p><p>The agreement was spearheaded by the <a href="http://rightofway.erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank">Rights-of-Way Habitat Working Group</a>, a collaboration between the University of Illinois Chicago's <a href="https://erc.uic.edu/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Energy Resources Center</a>, the Fish and Wildlife Service and over 40 organizations from the energy and transportation sectors. These sectors control "rights-of-way" corridors such as lands near power lines, oil pipelines, railroad tracks and interstates, all valuable to monarch habitat restoration.</p><p>Under the plan, partners voluntarily agree to commit a percentage of their land to host protected monarch habitat. In exchange, general operations on their land that might directly harm monarchs or destroy milkweed will not be subject to the enhanced regulation of the Endangered Species Act – protection that would last for 25 years if monarchs are listed as threatened. The agreement is expected to create up to 2.3 million acres of new protected habitat, which ideally would avoid the need for a "threatened" listing.</p>
A Model for Collaboration<p>This agreement could be one of the few specific interventions that is big enough to allow researchers to quantify its impact on the size of the monarch population. Even if the agreement produces only 20% of its 2.3 million acre goal, this would still yield nearly half a million acres of new protected habitat. This would provide a powerful test of the role of declining breeding and nectaring habitat compared to other challenges to monarchs, such as climate change or pollution.</p><p>Scientists hope that data from this agreement will be made publicly available, like projects in the <a href="https://www.fws.gov/savethemonarch/MCD.html" target="_blank">Monarch Conservation Database</a>, which has tracked smaller on-the-ground conservation efforts since 2014. With this information we can continue to develop powerful new models with better accuracy for determining how different habitat factors, such as the number of milkweed stems or nectaring flowers on a landscape scale, affect the monarch population.</p><p>North America's monarch butterfly migration is one of the most awe-inspiring feats in the natural world. If this rescue plan succeeds, it could become a model for bridging different interests to achieve a common conservation goal.</p>
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