In the produce world, the unfortunate reality of dealing with highly perishable, fresh food and a complex harvesting and manufacturing process is that a portion of what we make will never see store shelves. There are a variety of reasons for this – ranging from the inherent by-product of harvesting and cutting our greens, to produce that doesn’t meet our high quality standards, to finished product that expires before we can sell it. However, at Earthbound Farm, we are always thinking creatively, with the environment and our communities in mind, to minimize this waste the best we can.
In the Fields
When we harvest produce, despite our best efforts, not everything makes it into our collection bins. Fortunately, as organic farmers, we know how to take what’s left behind and reuse it to keep our soils healthy. After a harvest, we leave the excess greens right where they land in the field, so they start to deteriorate on the top of the soil bed. Then, when the crew is done harvesting the field, we run tractors through and mix it all back in, which gives our soil more organic matter, naturally. This is an important part of how we continue to build the fertility and structure of our soils, which is critical to growing the highest quality produce. Learn more about the importance of soil health in organic production.
In the Plant
Once our raw greens make it to our manufacturing facility for washing and packaging, there are several reasons why we may end up with waste—which are captured at various points in the process—including receiving, manufacturing and packaging. Waste can include raw or finished product that doesn’t meet our stringent quality standards; “culls”, which result from trimming romaine to make it consumer-ready; leaves and other debris that may simply fall to the wayside during their journey through the plant; or, finished product that is approaching or has surpassed its use-by dates. How the waste is handled depends on the kind of waste:
- Recycled for Use in Animal Feed – All of the safe, organic material we recover that would otherwise be composted is donated to for use in animal feed, including radicchio cores. In 2014-2015, Earthbound Farm recycled nearly 9,300 tons of food waste, including 98 percent of all lettuce culls.
- Donated – While we try to balance our supply and demand as accurately as possible, it is an imperfect science, and sometimes we end up with a surplus of finished product due to its extreme perishability. For example, if the timing and quantities of customer orders are such that we have to hold product until too close to or past its sell-by date, we cannot ship it. (By the time it arrives and is on-shelf for consumer purchase, it will not meet our quality specifications.) However, the product is still perfectly edible if it doesn’t have to travel so far. So we donate this product to our long-time partners at Ag Against Hunger, a local non-profit that collects fresh produce and distributes it throughout the west to food banks, schools and food assistance programs to help those who are hungry. In 2014-2015, we donated 1.4 million pounds of wholesome, organic produce to our neighbors in need, and Earthbound Farm sits on Ag Against Hunger’s Board of Directors.
Earthbound is proud to play an important part in helping change the way the world eats for the better by eliminating food waste through our recycling and donation programs. Not only does it help sustain the planet and the communities we serve, but it also makes good business sense.