Food waste is becoming a world-wide problem. Learn how growing your own food can help reduce or eliminate most food waste and keep it out of our landfills.
I just recently came back from a trip and on the airplane I had access to some recent movies (I have no cable or Netflix subscription at home). One movie caught my eye and I watched it and even took some notes.
The movie is called Wasted! And no, it is not what you think, considering that Canada just passed laws relaxing restrictions on cannabis!
Wasted! The Story of Food Waste covers the growing epidemic of throwing away perfectly good food. Here are some statistics and facts:
- $1500 worth of food is thrown away each year by the average American family
- 90% of landfill contents is food
- Food in landfills creates methane gas, a larger problem than carbon dioxide
- Traditional agriculture produces a lot of waste; entire fields of produce are left rotting because either the produce is not perfect enough for grocery store shelves or it is the wrong product
- Use by and Best By dates are not definitive “don’t eat this” dates; most food is actually still edible past these dates
- A head of lettuce can take up to 25 years to decompose in a landfill – this is in comparison to maybe a month at most in a traditional compost bin
But things are changing for the better. Organizations and restaurants are taking a lead in coming up with ingenious ways to use wasted food.
The movie though didn’t go much into what the individual can do. That is what I had hoped to hear more about, but the producers had obvious time constraints. Maybe there will be a sequel.
They have posted a “Take Action” page on their website (unfortunately this page seems to load veryyyyy slowly) but there is something obvious missing – growing your own food at home!
Hence why I decided to write this post and look at where I believe homesteading and especially growing your own food comes in to help solve this food waste epidemic.
JIT (Just-In-Time) Food Harvesting
Have you ever heard of just-in-time manufacturing? It is where the customer orders something and the product is manufactured after the order comes in rather than having a stock of products that are already made.
This is quite popular with print-on-demand books. You order a book and it is printed out and mailed to you. This not only saves on storage costs but also reduces waste, so that the publishing house doesn’t have unsold books sitting around that then have to be tossed (hopefully recycled).
If you grow your own food, you should be able to do the same. Instead of picking all the tomatoes and storing them and having them spoil, you can pick only as many as you need for your next meal.
Or as I am doing above, pick just a handful of raspberries to eat right away or if you can wait long enough, to put in your bowl of cereal.
And consider succession planting. This is where you seed over the course of several weeks or in some cases all summer so that you don’t get that huge harvest all at one time. Keep it manageable based on how much your family needs in a given week.
Food Value of Homegrown Food
You’ve seeded, watered, fertilized, pruned, harvested and preserved. It’s going to hurt to toss that produce in the trash after all that work of growing it.
Growing your own food gives the food much more value than the food you buy at the grocery store. While tossing away food you have bought means you are literally throwing away money, some people see it just as a cost they are willing to pay.
I often see plates still full of perfectly edible food on the dish carts at my university’s cafeteria. Students (many of who are on limited budgets) are paying good money for their lunch, but are still throwing it away (luckily the food is picked up by a composting program, but still waste is waste). The students probably don’t realize how much effort went into sourcing, purchasing, delivering and preparing the food by the university, in addition to the suppliers actual growing it.
The food you grow also likely has more health value in it, so you’re more likely going to try and use it up rather than tossing it.
One other interesting topic that was discussed a lot in the movie is using parts of the plant that you normally wouldn’t see sold in a grocery store.
Most brassica parts are edible, including the leaves and stems. Often you will see broccoli crowns for sale in the grocery store as people don’t want to eat the stems. But what happens to the stems? The store doesn’t sell them separately so likely they are being tossed.
And surprisingly squash stems are a delicacy in Mexico and are now being used by American restaurants, filling them and steaming them. I’ll have to try that next year as I seem to have more luck growing the stems than the squash!
Composting On Site
There will of course be food that you just have to toss, no matter how effective you want to be in eating everything. Mold, extensive bruising on fruit, heavy insect damage results in food that usually can’t be eaten.
However tossing food into the landfill is the worst thing you can do. As mentioned in the movie, food that is thrown in the garbage and ends up in the landfill takes years to breakdown and as it does produces methane gas, considered to be a greenhouse gas by the damage it does to the environment.
There are municipal “green bin” or composting programs being offered in more and more regions. We have our own green bin that is emptied every two weeks. We mainly use it for cooked food, invasive plants and currently our kitchen food scraps (due to some rodent problems in our compost).
While this is a step in the right direction for diverting food waste away from the landfill, this service requires the burning of fossil fuels in the trucks that come and pickup the bins. There must be a better way other than replacing the trucks with battery electric versions (don’t worry, that is coming soon).
Composting on site is the answer. Not only do you ensure that food waste doesn’t have the travel miles associated with bringing it somewhere else but you also gain the benefits of having completed compost that you can amend your vegetable beds with.
So if you’re not yet composting, start today! If you don’t have much space, it can be as simple as setting up a worm bin and have the worms transform your kitchen food scraps into high quality worm castings. Even though I have a compost, I’m thinking of also starting a worm bin or two.
Preserving the Harvest
Due to the nature of some crops, especially fruit trees, when everything is ripe, you’re going to have to stop everything and deal with the harvest!
That’s where preserving the harvest is so important.
And there are many ways of doing so. I’ve already written a post on how to blanch vegetables for freezing.
And there are many other ways including pickling, fermenting, freezing, drying, root cellaring, baking, cooking and canning. Future articles will cover these preserving techniques.
By preserving the harvest, you are ensuring that your produce will survive. You also can control portions when preserving food yourself, so that you can just open and use as much as you need for one meal.
Use smaller jars when canning and smaller bags or containers when freezing. And if you really have too much like we do, keep some of those jars of jam, chutney, salsa or relish and give them away as gifts.
The movie Wasted is worth a watch, mainly to give you an idea of the seriousness of our food waste epidemic. I hope more people get a chance to watch it as it does make you think: what can I do to reduce food waste?
Here is the trailer:
As homesteaders we are already doing our part to reduce food waste by growing our own food and adopting more sustainable practices such as composting.
In the end it comes down to what kind of world we want to leave for our children and future generations. Drowning in our own food waste is a future no one wants!
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Tranquil Garden Urban Homestead, Victoria, BC