Community food systems can help reduce waste

By closing the agricultural loop, a local or community food system can help reduce waste associated with food consumption.

Michiganders are beginning to think more critically about how their food gets to their dinner or restaurant table. However, it may be time that we apply that same critical thinking to what happens to our food once it leaves that same dinner or restaurant table.

America throws away up to 40 percent of its food, equivalent to throwing away $165 billion every year. This is an alarming number considering not only the sheer volume of food waste in the country’s landfills or the cost that it represents, but also the cost of resources that goes into producing that wasted food. The question then becomes, what can we do about this massive problem in our food industry?

While the solutions are relatively simple -- use less food and recycle more of the food waste we create – the logistics of developing these solutions can be complicated. Community and local food systems can help alleviate this problem by closing the agriculture loop on a local scale and helping to open communication between producers and purchasers for better food production planning.

Connecting the table back to the farm has already begun in the Grand Rapids region. Local company New-Soil has implemented a commercial composting operation that has been utilized by local restaurants and institutions as a way to reduce food waste entering the landfill. The composted waste is then sold to local farmers for new crop production, hence, closing the loop. Michigan State University Extension is working to reduce food waste in its community food systems work. By developing stronger connections between producers and purchasers of local food, it is working to reduce inefficiencies and over-production on a local scale. One way this is happening is through local food hub development and production planning.

Production planning involves a conscious effort to streamline production to fit local supply needs. This involves proper planning and coordination between producers and purchasers which can be facilitated through food hubs and by and MSUExtension educators. To find out more information about how you can help tackle food waste in your community, contact an extension educator, use MSU Extension’s “Find an Expert” tool and search using the keywords, “community food” or “tourism.”

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