Inside Look: How Fighting Hunger Also Helps the Planet

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In a land of abundant food, there is also abundant waste. In fact, 40% of the food produced in the United States goes uneaten. To be a part of the solution to this problem, the food bank has made reducing food waste a core tenant; it’s part of our organizational DNA. Here are a few ways the food bank works to reduce food waste and help more people get access to the nutritious food they need.

How We Reduce Food Waste in Our Region

The food bank’s model is to make sure that retailers or others who have an excess supply of good, nutritious food can make it available for people in need, rather than discarding it. Much of that food comes to the food bank directly.

But when retailers have smaller amounts of food to donate (a few crates of milk, or a few boxes of frozen vegetables), it is not feasible for the stores to send trucks to the food bank, so it becomes more likely the food gets wasted. A few years ago, these grocers looked to the food bank for assistance.

Our solution: working smarter by making a direct connection between our network of nonprofit partners and our retail donors. Through our partner direct model, 60 of our partners in DC, MD and VA pick donations up right from grocers.

The results: transportation costs are saved for both the food bank and the grocer, and millions of pounds of good food from 238 retailers makes it way to the tables of families in our area, rather than into a landfill. Last year alone, the Partner Direct program saved 5.8 million pounds of food, which equates to 4.8 million more meals for the community.

How We Reduce Waste in Our Daily Operations

During the course of a year, more than 25 million pounds of food get delivered to and sorted at the food bank for eventual delivery to over 450 community partners and 10 direct distribution programs. With such a massive amount of food going through our system, it is likely that some of that food will be unfit to serve to the community. Small amounts of food may be spoiled or spill during the sorting or packing process. This is where the food bank’s partnership with local cattle farmer Bobby Wojciechowski comes in. All spoiled or spilt food gets poured into certain bins that we then send to Bobby, who uses the food to feed his cattle.

Another way the food bank stays sustainable is by creatively repurposing food waste in our Urban Demonstration Garden, a half-acre urban farm attached to the DC Warehouse where partner agencies and community members can learn how to grow healthy, nutritious food in the urban environment. Hillary Quarles, the food bank’s food growing education specialist, makes compost from a variety of food waste products – any part of a plant from the garden that is not consumed, kitchen scraps from the food bank’s demonstration kitchen, and more. Through a natural composting process, the vegetable matter turns back into soil and is re-used in the gardening process.

How We Reduce Food Waste Through Education

In addition to reducing food waste through our partner direct program and internally during operations, the food bank seeks to educate the community about reducing food waste. Our Nutrition Education team regularly conducts cooking demos both at the food bank and at partner and program sites. During these demos, our Nutrition Education Coordinator Katherine Donnelly makes sure to give plenty of tips regarding food waste. “Use the stems of kale, chards and collard in soups or as an extra crunch in salads.” “Pickle the rind of a watermelon.” “Collect the zest of citrus and use it to add flavor to your next meal.” Katherine’s number one tip? “Make a food budget and meal plan; it is the sure-fire way to reduce food waste. Knowing what you will eat and when helps ensure that nothing spoils while hiding in a corner of your fridge.”

Learn More About How the Food Bank Fights Against Food Waste