How US Farms Are Working to Reduce Food Waste

From using cheese scraps for biogas to selling ugly fruit at supermarkets, farmers are upcycling food that would have been thrown away.

Jun 28, 2019

(joerngebhardt6 / Shutterstock.com)

When you go to the supermarket to buy apples, they are usually perfectly sized and colored. The store is filled with a myriad of great looking fresh fruits and vegetables in the produce section and blocks of cheese in a variety of shapes and sizes. Everything looks perfect.

Did you ever stop to think of what happens to the foods that are misshapen? Or what happens to the byproducts from manufacturing those cheese blocks from milk or beer from grains? Most of us never do.

The US Department of Agriculture study found that Americans waste around 1 pound (422 grams) of food a day, or 225 – 290 pounds a year and when added all together is enough to feed 2 billion people annually. Now, farmers are trying to turn this around by finding ways to fight food waste by upcycling food that would have been thrown away.

One farm in upstate New York is using millions of pounds of food scraps and farm by products to power its businesses. Craigs Creamery was founded by eight families who each own their own dairy farms, many for multiple generations. The creamery that produces cheddar, mozzarella, swiss, and muenster cheeses in a variety of sizes and shapes is also committed to zero waste.

The company states on its website: “We’re committed to sustainable practices that reduce waste and help our operations run more efficiently—from creating our own renewable energy to recycling water used on our farms. In fact, our efforts have earned us certification in a New York state sanctioned environmental program.”

The creamery is located on Noblehurst Farms and is home to the only biodigester in the US that uses food scraps from the cheesemaking process and cow manure to create electricity from biogas. In addition to the biogas, the biodigester also makes liquid fertilizer to use on the farms and cow bedding through Natural Upcycling, a sister company. Since 2014, 20 million pounds of food scraps have been recycled in the 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,” farmer and Craigs Creamery partner Chris Noble told Modern Farmer. “The cheese brand was a way to do that and diversify our businesses by investing in something that wasn't just focused on farming.”

In addition to the biodigester, Craigs Creamery also uses solar panels to warm water and power the operation.Water waste from creamery is being turned into clean drinking water 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. “We're always looking at what else we can do and, so far, I think we've been pretty innovative for the dairy industry.”

Another innovative New York farm is Gotham Greens which runs urban rooftop greenhouses in Brooklyn and Queens. Gotham Greens’ pesticide-free leafy produce is 100 percent clean energy powered and grown using sustainable farming methods. When the team find greens that are bruised or have pest damage, they used to use it for team meals, but since 2016, they sell it in supermarkets under the "Ugly Greens (Are Beautiful)" label that sells for up to 40 percent off.

Tree Top, a fruit cooperative in Washington State has been saving ugly nonuniform fruit from going into landfills since the 1960s. The fruit may be ugly, but it tastes just as good. A farm fresh cooperative in Lancaster, Pennsylvania is working with Baldor Foods to reduce waste. Produce that is imperfect or leftover scraps from packaging for sale are being repurposed for people and animals.

Even beer breweries are trying to be more sustainable. Strong Rope Brewery in Brooklyn, New York is one of the breweries that are partnering with the startup Rise to use the grains that are left over from the brewing process to make flour and brownies.

Many of these operations are small but added together, they are making a difference in reducing food waste. As Americans are becoming more environmentally savvy and as more people demand sustainable farming practices, the industry will have to green up to meet consumer demands. That will go a long way in protecting our planet and feeding a hungry world.

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BONNIE RIVA RAS, EDITOR & WRITER
Bonnie Riva Ras has dedicated her life to promoting social justice. She loves to write about empowering women, helping children, educational innovations, and advocating for the environment & sustainability.