Northeast Ohio Group Wants to Send Food Waste to Farms

Dec 3, 2015

Abbe Turner, of Lucky Penny Farm, is aiming for zero-food waste when she makes cheese in this circa-1955 300-gallon vat.
Credit KABIR BHATIA / WKSU

A program to re-use nutrient-rich food waste is underway in Northeast Ohio, and it could affect the way both animals and people eat. WKSU's Kabir Bhatia reports.

Abbe Turner from Lucky Penny Farm in Kent is standing in her cheese-making room, where she separates the curds and the whey.

"In the food waste world, our whey is our by-product. Which we collect – we pump out of the vat – and we then take back to the farm to feed to our pigs."

And that's an idea Turner wants to expand to composters, farmers and other food producers in Northeast Ohio. She's leading a new initiative called Food Waste for Farms. The group’s aim is to link people who create food waste -- such as whey -- with small farmers, who can re-use that waste as compost or as animal feed.

Finding feed

Abbe Turner says driving on farm roads during an Ohio winter to pick up heavy, sometimes wet food waste can be a challenge.
Credit LUCKY PENNY FARM

Turner says a 50-pound bag of nutrient-rich feed costs about $16. But she can get about the same amount of whey after an agitator finishes stirring up a fresh batch of cheese.

“Where the food-waste project comes into play is, we have very nutrient-rich waste products which can actually usually are free, except for the cost of hauling them. In the case of the whey it’s rich in vitamins and minerals and fat. And the animals just love it."

A way to feed animals and people

Food banks could also benefit from the Food Waste for Farms program. Turner says it’s not just about feeding by-products to animals, but also providing food to people who need it.

“One of the things we need to do is make sure that we’re feeding the hungry the excess food that we produce. That in itself is a transportation and logistics issue. We want to make sure that if there’s good quality food that it gets to our food banks in a fast, efficient manner that actually protects the integrity of the food.

The Food Waste for Farms initiative held its first conference last month at Squire Valleevue Farm in Hunting Valley.
Credit KABIR BHATIA / WKSU

Avoiding the landfill

And the option they want to avoid is sending food to the landfill, where Turner says too much food ends up.

“I'm driving towards zero-waste. The fact that 40 percent of the food in this country we produce is thrown away, and the fact that 40 percent of the stuff in the landfill is actually food-waste, while we still have 50 million Americans that are hungry in this country. Those are three distinct problems.”

One way Turner and Food Waste for Farms are working on those problems is with an online program to link farmers and producers. She hopes to have an app or website set up that allows people to network and find out what they need, when they need.