By Erin Fitzgerald
Senior Vice President, Sustainability, Innovation Center for U.S. Dairy
The spotlight was on Vermont today at the “Future of Food” forum in Burlington. Vermonters Will Raap, founder of Gardener’s Supply and Marie Audet (whose family farm earned a U.S. Dairy Sustainability Award in 2012) shared some interesting statistics:
- Only 51,000 dairy farm families are providing enough milk to feed the more than 310 million people in the United States (with some left over to export)
- In the next 40 years we need to produce as much food as in the last 8000 years
Will pointed out the tremendous energy supply required to make this much food. That’s one reason that Vermont has supported the Cow Power program, which Audet’s family helped to pioneer.
Another solution is to address the waste in the system. As Jason Clay reminded us recently, one out of three calories produced is wasted. I did some research on that, and discovered that in fact, America wastes 40% of its food supply annually. This is up approximately 50% since 1974.
This number represents waste in the entire food system – all the waste that occurs between the field and our homes, from the farm to the garbage can. It could be for any number of reasons, but analysis has showed that an estimated 27% of the food available for consumption is simply thrown away – by grocers, retailers, food service providers, and each of us, every day, when we pass by a blemished apple, let a banana get brown, or never get to the leftovers in our refrigerator.
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that all but about 2 percent of that food waste ends up in landfills. That means we are tossing valuable nutrients – nutrients that could be used to nourish our families – into a landfill.
What if we start to think simple and do what our grandma taught us to do:
- Take only what we need, eat healthy and not too much.
- Retailers, food companies, and restaurant chains who have too much can donate it to local shelters and food pantries, or national programs such as Feeding America
- When that’s not practical, this so-called food ‘waste’ can be turned into valuable nutrients for farming. What comes from the land goes back to the land. We can put those nutrients back to work, by mixing them with manure to create natural compost or fertilizer.
And now, with enhanced technologies, adding food ‘waste’/aka nutrients into an anaerobic digester on a dairy farm can not only create natural fertilizer but also clean, renewable energy to power homes. In fact, food ‘waste’ acts as a super charger to generate up to 300% more renewable energy.
Recycling these valuable nutrients back to the farm – as Marie and the generations of dairy farmers before her will remind us, this is just good sense.