Sustainable Agricultural Practices Series kickoff: A farm-waste-reuse success story

One of the more, I think, unique facets of living in California’s breadbasket (the San Joaquin Valley) is the juxtaposition created by low-lying cities, towering and rocky Sierra Nevada mountain peaks in the company of myriad flat and hilly farm country. To get from city centers to what is probably best described as the world’s most fertile terra firma, takes no more – in most cases – than a 10-minute drive.

To give some idea of just how extensive farming is in the region, agricultural production in the Valley alone in monetary terms in 2009, registered about $16 billion, roughly half of the state’s production sales total. In 2014, state farm production in sales reached upwards of $44.5 billion. The ratio of Valley ag sales compared to the rest of California, still remains about 1 to 1.

When you consider all of that farming-related activity is concentrated on land area amounting to approximately 24,000 square miles in size, compared to all that lying within the Golden State’s borders, I would think you would agree that that fact is pretty remarkable. (Note: Valley land taken out of agricultural production since 1990 and converted to non-farm usage or that which has been fallowed due to ongoing drought and other factors, is considerable). So, from all of this, it follows then that the less of a burden all the ag-related-production activity is on the air, water and land – collectively, the environment – the better.

Finding and implementing ways to make the industry’s operations more sustainable, makes sense as doing such can lessen that burden. One of the areas of interest and concern in this region is waste and its associated disposal thereof.

And, this brings to the fore the bigger-picture story here which is that the next couple of Air Quality Matters postings will be devoted to exploring, covering sustainability on the farm, in the orchard and around the vineyard. (Up till now, agricultural coverage here has been somewhat limited).

Today’s discussion, the first in the Sustainable Agricultural Practices Series, has to do with waste reuse. And, just to be clear, what is being offered here has implications beyond the Valley.

Waste and reuse – these two words – are about as improbable a pairing as two ideas can get. However, this is not so much the case in agriculture, apparently.

In fact, the opening entry in the May 2016 Fruit Growers News article “Eye of the beholder: Produce intended for the landfill ends up in more valuable places,” written by FGN correspondent Kathy Gibbons reads as follows: “One man’s trash is another man’s salad.” She’s kidding, right? Quite the contrary.

320px-Landfill_face[1]Gibbons elaborates by stating: “That’s what Adam Kaye discovered when he visited Baldor Specialty Foods, located at Hunts Point in the Bronx, New York, in 2014. The culinary director for Blue Hill Restaurant in New York City was getting ready to open a popup restaurant called ‘WastED,’ with a menu that relied mostly on foods otherwise destined for the landfill.”

“A longtime customer of Baldor, which has its own fresh-cut produce processing facility, Kaye went to see what might be available in terms of fruit and vegetable scraps.”

“He took a picture of what he saw and took it back to Blue Hill chef and owner Dan Barber, who saw the same possibilities. Many of those scraps – ribbons of carrot peels, fennel cores, celery cores, bruised apples and pears – became ingredients for a Dumpster Dive Salad that became part of WastED’s menu.”

I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Not only is this unheard of – or has been up to this point or one would be inclined to believe – but this colorful tale is getting more interesting by the minute.

And, get a load (pun intended) of this: The Blue Hill trial program became a source for part of what inspired Thomas McQuillan, who himself, for Baldor, is a business analyst, according to Gibbons. McQuillan was responsible for identifying alternative-to-landfill approaches that have little or no impact on the environment in respect to the disposing of the roughly five tons of wasted food generated daily by Baldor. “The company has set 2017 as its deadline to eliminate taking organic waste to landfills,” Gibbons added.

What it all boils down to (an expression that might not be the best as applied in this context) is that food scraps that would ordinarily be fodder for the trash heap, can actually get a second go-’round as reused food and, in this scenario, could very well wind up on the dinner plates of many.

Add to this that this is just the kind of stuff that could inspire other types of innovation that, like this one, could reduce the amount of agricultural waste being burned or landfill-destined. Who knows what kinds of or how many ideas might actually come to fruition that, in the end, will lend themselves nicely to the sustainable agricultural practices cause thereby furthering what has come to be known as environmental stewardship.

You just never can tell.

Image above: Ashley Felton

– Alan Kandel