Voices from the New Generation of Farmers: Waste Not, Want Not

by Allie Urbanek, 2012 Good Cheer “Community Gardening and Leadership Training” apprentice

“While hunger is real, scarcity is an illusion.”
~Frances Moore Lappe and Joseph Collins

On Saturdays this time of year, we walk from Good Cheer Food Bank to the Bayview Farmer’s Market at closing time, hauling a large wagon or two and several large plastic tubs. We are participating in the ancient act of gleaning: collecting leftover produce from farmers. This common law practice, ancient in roots and even encouraged in the Old Testament, has fortunately extended far beyond humble roots of people picking leftovers from a field. And I am thrilled to participate in gleaning in many ways.

Bok choy donated from Pam’s Produce at the Bayview Farmer’s Market

Good Cheer Food Bank and Thrift Stores are gleaners of the highest order, providing food and clothing, and even jobs, out of excesses. The food to stock the shelves comes from sources such as local supermarkets, non-profit hunger-relief organizations like Food Lifeline, and home gardeners.

Half the U.S. supply of food goes to waste. $100 billion worth. An anthropologist named Timothy Jones spent ten years picking through the trash of Americans to determine that the home is where a most food waste occurs, as well as by retailers, who usually overstock perishable food. This food-waste pile is heaped-upon by farmers, for many reasons, as well as the food service industry (restaurants), processors, and wholesalers.

Haste Makes Waste. This saying comes to mind every single day for me. I think about it as I rush around too-frantically through my day. What am I missing? I rush through a meal, improperly digesting the food I’m trying to consume. As I rush, I am more likely to trip and fall, or drop something. Recently a family member moved out of her house, and our family remained to clean up 70 years worth of things. Had we infinite time, we could have found good homes for everything. Alas, a dumpster arrived on moving day. Haste makes waste.

Since I am from Boston, I will give kudos to my city by acknowledging a group of gleaning activists under the name Food Not Bombs. In 1981 a protest of the First National Bank of Boston, a major investor in nuclear power, led a group of activists to call for “money for food, not bombs.” This day of street theatre led to a decentralized movement in hundreds of cities around the world where weekly meals are served out of leftover food from local stores.

Yet this ancient right to glean is sometimes threatened. Food Not Bombs volunteers are yearly arrested for serving food to hungry people on public land. Dumpsters are locked against people who would search for untouched food. And regulations make donating food hard for individuals and businesses. A personal anecdote from my time in Hawaii is when law enforcement cut down coconut palms to discourage people from living on beaches.

Hope abounds for the reduction of food waste, which is widely acknowledged to be both an environmental and economic  loss. Many regions compost “green waste” by distributing “green” recycling bins for curbside pick-up, like Seattle and San Fransisco, or like Massachusetts which recently legislated to recycle all commercial organic waste into biogas. Individuals are making efforts to reduce waste in their lives, like No Impact Man or Dave Chameides who lived with a year’s worth of his  own trash. And incredible groups of people are working to redistribute food to others in their communities and around the world!

At Good Cheer, whatever food isn’t put on the shelves goes into the soup pot, to local livestock, or to our worms who effeciently recycle it into excellent compost. In effect, Good Cheer produces ZERO food waste.

How else can we work towards a global food system where high-quality food is provided efficiently for people and waste eliminated?

And remember, in nature there is no such thing as waste, for waste is anything that is wasted!

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