Farm-to-Table or Table-to-Farm?: Recycled Food Waste as Animal Feed

Maddie Mikschl

With staggering amounts of food waste in America entering landfills, new methods for recycling this food waste are continually arising and developing. Our food and agriculture industry is extremely carbon intensive, leaving us without the option to continue using it inefficiently. The process of recycling food waste into use for animal feed is one with little research or real world implementations, but has promising potential as a main diversion source. While there is much more to be discovered and explored in this process of conversion, some success stories do stand as an example on how to effectively transform the food scraps from grocery stores, restaurants, and households to the nutritious animal feed on farms. I worked with my fellow members of FEED, a food equity consulting club at UC Berkeley, to take a look a these programs in the Bay Area and examine what tactics should be used as a model for similar future programs.

Local efforts to convert this food waste to animal feed consist of mostly small, informal, and intermittent transitions. We were able to contact small bay area animal farms such as Leland St. Farms, to examine how they are accepting recycled scraps. This small scale-pig farm sources 90% of their pig feed from a local produce market called Andy’s, collected in a large bin and transported to the farm via tractor. The farmers report that their grain purchases are minimal and their pigs are extremely healthy due to their open access to nutritious food that would have been trash. Devil’s Gulch Ranch, a similarly small pig farm in Marin, receives unused food from Marin Food Bank, grain from Almanac Brewery and Magnolia Brewery, and cheese from Marin Cheese Farm. All donations are left in large bins at these locations and workers drive trucks to pick them up about every other week. The farmers taking advantage of freely available recycled food boast its benefits of lower costs and even better animal health. However, due to a lack of existing organization, they have only been able to achieve this through self-initiative and funding for sourcing and retrieving this food.

In looking for more established and formal food waste recycling methods, we found FoodShift. This Alameda sourced organization began a program to pick up food waste from a partnered grocery store, Andronico’s, and deliver it to St Vincent de Paul’s to feed the hungry. Food Shift reported that “In the first three months of the program, over 44,000 lbs of food was collected, including melons, apples, oranges, lettuce, granola bars and more. Andronico’s determined that the quantity of waste in their dumpsters had declined so dramatically that the store could reduce their number of garbage and compost pick ups to three days per week, which can save them almost $27,000 each year”. While this food was not taken to farms, the success of Food Shift is a strong representation of the sustainability and cost efficiency of programs that divert food waste from grocery stores.

This research has provided me with an encouraging promise that food waste can be sustainably managed and diverted through cost efficient means. There stands a large and inefficient gap in our food system between those who waste food and those who need it. Exploring our options to close this gap brings us closer to an organized means of using our carbon intensive resources to their fullest potential. These unexplored and small-scale systems signify a huge opportunity for larger organizations and programs to make a much bigger impact through the diversion of food waste as a source of animal feed.

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