Monterey County Sustainability Working Group Meeting Concludes, Focuses on Food Waste

Monterey County Sustainability Working Group Meeting Concludes, Focuses on Food Waste

SALINAS, CA- The complex issue of food waste is present in communities, states, and across countries, and while it is not an easy one to resolve, the Monterey County Sustainable Working Group is driving efforts to address the ongoing issue. On Wednesday, May 26th, upwards of 50 representatives from local government, businesses, and nonprofits gathered for a two-hour luncheon in Salinas, California, to learn about and discuss food waste.

Nikki Rodoni, Founder of the Working GroupNikki Rodoni, Founder of the Working Group, said, “Solving this issue of food waste is a complex endeavor, and there is no one-size fits all solution. This meeting was a great first step toward constructive collaboration to find solutions for how to measure and improve efforts in this area.”

In the U.S. alone, 40 percent of all food is wasted, according to the press release. In Monterey County, an area abundant in agriculture, more than one-in-ten people are food insecure, including families, children and the elderly. Attendees at the event learned the national food waste rate of 40 percent represents an annual economic loss of $160-220 billion. In addition, it also accounts for a loss of around 141 trillion calories worth of food.

Discussion and action around this issue has been continuing to gain traction in supermarkets, with government agencies, and even on social media where the Twitter handle @UglyFruitAndVeg has nearly 70,000 followers, the release adds. On a national level, the White House recently announced the ambitious goal of a 50 percent reduction in food waste by 2030 with a growing number of federal and state initiatives to reduce food waste along the supply chain. The Ad Council is kicking off a brand new “Save The Food” campaign. For context, the average family of four spends $1,500/year on food they don’t eat, the release notes.

Dana Gunders, an expert on food waste with the Natural Resource Defense CouncilSan Francisco-based Dana Gunders, an expert on food waste with the Natural Resource Defense Council and author of  Waste Free Kitchen Handbook, gave the keynote speech.

"There's a real opportunity for the farm community to seize consumer interest in the topic in a way that helps fully utilize everything that's being grown,” Gunders said as she shared results from food waste studies around the country, which found that although food-recycling programs are more scalable, waste prevention, and food recovery programs are far more cost-effective. “We're already starting to see companies large and small embrace the 'ugly' fruit and vegetable movement, and I believe that's just the beginning. I truly appreciate this chance to discuss many of the issues around food waste with the group."

Monterey County Sustainability Work Group

Wednesday’s event brought together individuals from higher education, waste management companies, agricultural companies, food banks, composters, trade associations, and county government.

Attendees discussed a number of waste-reduction strategies including gleaning, or recovering food from fields and orchards after all commercially viable product has been harvested since some of the biggest opportunities in reducing food waste can be found at the farm or processing facility.

From left to right: Nikki Rodoni, Kris Gavin, Dana Gunders

As supporters of the cause, Growers Express—part of the original steering committee members of MCSWG—is also bringing the issue to light.

Kris Gavin, Technical Services & Sustainability Manager, of Growers ExpressTechnical Services & Sustainability Manager, Kris Gavin, of Growers Express will continue to be a catalyst for this important cause. Gavin is also part of the team working to encourage innovative ways to address the issue. “I’m pleased to represent Growers Express in our support of continued education, training and collaboration towards improvement of this far-reaching issue,” Gavin said. “It’s been top of mind with many consumers for some time now and will undoubtedly be into the future,” Gavin said.

Mike Harwood, Professor of Food and Agribusiness at Santa Clara UniversityMike Harwood, Professor of Food and Agribusiness at Santa Clara University, said, “Growers need better financial incentives to glean their own fields at a profit.”


Jeff Lindenthal with the Monterey Regional Waste Management District

Addressing other food waste challenges including consistency in “Best Before” labels, consumer purchasing habits, portion sizes, food storage, and even food disposal strategies, Jeff Lindenthal with the Monterey Regional Waste Management District, stated, “The District processes more than 5,000 tons of post-consumer food waste annually… we agree it’s best to reduce, reuse and then recycle!”

Extensive resources go into food production and consumption, such as land, water, fertilizer, energy, transportation and labor. Diverse regions with varied challenges and strengths must approach the problem differently along with players in the food supply chain, from farmers, distributors and retailers, to restaurants, consumers and all the way to waste managers.  

While the Monterey County Sustainable Working Group continues to spearhead these efforts, continue to check back with us as we bring you the latest from Nikki Rodoni and her team.

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