Our society wastes food at every point in the food chain from farms and gardens to home kitchens, restaurants, supermarkets, food service companies, and large institutions like universities that feed thousands of people daily. Last December I was astonished to lean about the extent of food waste at the MD Food Recovery Summit organized by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
Surplus food is the term used to describe unsold and unused food, like crops that don’t go to market because prices are too low, perishable items tossed into supermarket dumpsters, and groceries and restaurant meals bought and not eaten.
35% of all U.S. food went unsold or unused
23% of all surplus food is fruits and vegetables
Only 15% of Maryland’s 900K+ tons of food waste was recycled
Why it’s a problem:
Huge economic and environmental costs of producing surplus food
1 in 6 U.S. residents are food insecure. Surplus food can feed hungry people
Surplus food is the #1 landfill material (24% of landfill space)
Food waste in landfills generates methane, a potent greenhouse gas that can trap 28X as much heat/mass unit as CO2
The value of wasted food at the consumer level is $161 billion/year
COVID-19 has been devastating for poor people and people of color. Systemic racism and economic inequality have resulted in higher death rates for Black and Hispanic people. Food insecurity is twice as likely to affect Black and Hispanic households as White households and the Maryland Food Bank estimates that one in seven of our state’s children suffers from food insecurity.
As individuals we can volunteer for community kitchens and food banks, donate produce from our gardens, support local farmers, and learn about the root causes of these problems and disparities. We can also support the awesome groups that are educating, organizing, and growing food to address food apartheid and food insecurity. Here are a few outstanding examples with Baltimore roots:
Our mission: The Black Church Food Security Network (BCFSN) utilizes an asset-based approach in organizing and linking the vast resources of historically African American congregations in rural and urban communities to advance food and land sovereignty.
The Black Farmer Directory was created by BCFSN to connect Black Farmers to African American churches, other faith-based institutions, and all who wish to support them.
This fund is a special project of the Farm Alliance of Baltimore and supports 10 Black-owned farms and Black-led food and farming organizations in Baltimore.
Denzel Mitchell, Deputy Director for the Alliance, says “2020 has been stressful but work has ramped up. On top of organizing and assisting farmers we’re dealing with racial tensions and pandemic issues. How do we help farms succeed and how do we move as an organization in this current climate of fear and anxiety?”
He noted that the City has provided support for the Alliance and donors helped get the Resilience Fund started mid-year. Farmers in need receive cash assistance, tools, and equipment.
Great Kids Farm is a 33-acre educational farm operated by Baltimore City Public Schools’ Office of Food and Nutrition Services. The farm is home to goats, chickens, turkeys, sheep and a lot of veggies and fruit.
In the 2020/2021 school year, we are offering virtual field trips for any Baltimore City Public Schools’ class (http://Bit.ly/GKFfacetime ), a pre-recorded virtual program for 2nd grade students (http://Bit.ly/virtualGKF), and agriculture-based activity kits for students to gain hands on experience in their own homes. Great Kids Farm also offers youth employment to high school students, and we are looking forward to hosting our 2nd annual African American Foodways Summit for high school students this February (a virtual event). For more on our programs, contact: email@example.com.
Do you have gardening supplies and tools to donate or would you like to become a volunteer? Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
This year, thanks to generous gleaning opportunities from Red Wiggler Community Farm, Butler’s Orchard, and Farm at Home, we’ve gleaned 248 lbs. of strawberries, 338 lbs. of blueberries, 32 lbs. of sweet potato vines, and 600 pounds of apples. The gleaned fresh produce was donated to Washington Grove and Sally K. Ride Elementary Schools, The Judy Center at Summit Hall Elementary School, and CFR network members.
Sweet Potatoes: More than Just a Tuber
Blog excerpt courtesy of Red Wiggler Community Farm:
On August 20th, 2018 we invited a group of volunteers to our site at Ovid Hazen Wells Park to glean sweet potato greens. This project was a partnership between Community Food Rescue, University of Maryland Extension, School of Supplementary Nutrition Education, the UME Montgomery County Master Gardeners, and The Montgomery County Food Council. We welcomed the opportunity to have this group work with growers to harvest a portion of this plant that has historically been underutilized.
Sweet potato greens have a surprising history in the Mid-Atlantic region of North America. Many Americans enjoy sweet potatoes during the holidays, as harvesting is at its peak from October to early December. While most associate eating sweet potatoes with the tuberous root portion of the plant, West African & Asian communities have incorporated the greens into their culinary practices for ages.
Like beet greens, the greens of sweet potatoes can be sautéed and prepared as a main or side dish. The leafy treats are packed with nutrients; in fact, they tend to hold three-times more vitamin B6, five-times more vitamin C, and close to ten-times more riboflavin than the root of the sweet potato.
Despite the apparent value of this part of the sweet potato, farmers often waste this part of the plant because of a lack of demand from commercial entities. Red Wiggler was thrilled to welcome our partner organizations to assist in delivering this super green to Shepherd’s Table, a nonprofit that has provided food to low-income families in Montgomery County for over 30 years.
Gleaning, Cooking, Eating, Sustaining
Shepherd’s Table Chef Christina Moore cooked the greens a few days after harvest as part of their chicken dinner for 120 people. “The guests loved them, and I got to try something new! Feel free to send any more our way!!”
Gleaning provides the opportunity to learn about modern-day issues in our community. Red Wiggler Community Farm Executive Director, Woody Woodroof joined the October 20th staff and gleaners for lunch and discussed food waste and food insecurity in Montgomery County. Woody summed up the big picture perspective of gleaning explaining, “partnerships like these allow Red Wiggler to give back while pursuing its long-term sustainability goals.”
Republished with permission from Community Food Rescue, with thanks to Program Director Cheryl Kollin and Outreach Coordinator Susan Wexler.