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A Look at Sonoma County, Calif.’s Plan to Fight Food Waste

The Sonoma County Food Recovery Coalition is working to divert what is salvageable and edible to feed the hungry.

About 45,500 tons of food is dumped in California’s Sonoma County landfill each year, while about 82,000 of its citizens go hungry every month. The Sonoma County Food Recovery Coalition (SCFRC) is working to bridge that divide by diverting what is salvageable and edible to feed the hungry.  

SCFRC is developing an online, countywide listing whereby charities can accept donations of produce, dry goods and prepared food. Donators will be able to enter their zip codes to find nearby drop-off locations for their surplus food. But the coalition, including government organizations, non-profits and individuals, has plans beyond this mapping tool.

“The SCFRC is dedicated to creating a community where food is shared equitably and where there is a deeper understanding of the valuable resources that go into producing food. We are working on community-based solutions to reduce food waste, increase food recovery, and create more awareness about this issue,” says Mimi Enright, program manager for University of California Cooperative Extension’s (UCCE) Community Food Systems. (UCCE is facilitating SCFRC’s initiative.)

As a corollary effort to the resource listing, SCFRC is planning an awareness campaign with both a consumer and business focus. And it’s developing a website to serve as a landing page to provide consumers and businesses with more information on how they can support food recovery.  

One of the lead organizations is nonprofit CropMobster. It is building the listing technology. It will host the directory on its website and market it on its existing platform, which serves the San Francisco Bay Area.

“We are technology and food system experts, but first and foremost we are part of the community of leaders working to tackle waste, with food waste being a big driver,” says CropMobster CEO Nick Papadopoulos. “We have our team and partners in the community. And folks in the Coalition are reaching out to hunger relief groups and recipients to include them in the directory.”

The goal is to create a one-stop shop where folks with donations can locate the organization nearest to them on line, looking for what might fit their criteria. This will include location, hours of operation, types and quantities of food accepted, among variables. That information will populate on the map and recipients can update it. People can publish alerts and their needs.

Sonoma County Waste Management Agency is among coalition members.

“Our agency was initially asked to provide data on food waste tonnage being landfilled in Sonoma County,” says Felicia Smith, waste management specialist, Sonoma County Waste Management Agency. “As the coalition’s mission was defined, it became apparent that by working with it to reduce edible food going to landfill, our county could mitigate climate change while improving our landfill diversion.” SCWMA’s role around organics diversion works in tandem with the SCFRC’s mission. It is responsible for compliance of California waste-related laws such as Mandatory Commercial Organics Recycling, which allows businesses to donate food for people, animal feed, or composting. So, says Smith, it was logical for the SCWMA to promote the coalition’s resource listing.

“This coalition strengthens our community resilience in several aspects,” Smith says. “By rescuing food, we are providing assistance to our food insecure populations, conserving resources that went into food cultivation, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions associated with food production, and encouraging a sharing and waste reduction ethic.”

Among other coalition members are Petaluma Bounty, which is part of a network that has harvested, recovered or redistributed more than 650,000 pounds of food and Sonoma Food Runners, which has diverted more than 30 tons of edible food since 2013 by supporting donation.

Coalition members will have collective events to get the word out.

The groups are working collectively on an educational campaign focused on reducing edible food waste at home. It will include tips on proper storage and understanding peak quality dates versus expiration dates. And it will provide recipes to make use of food fit for human consumption that would otherwise be wasted.

The coalition is starting by reaching out to hunger relief organizations but resources will eventually be available for others with food to donate, and for multiple uses.

“Now we are at the top of the [EPA] hierarchy, focusing on donation of food for human consumption. But as we get support and usage, we will expand,”Papdopoulos says. “We will look to many opportunities, whether to help provide access to food scraps for animal feed, waste to energy, compost or wherever there is need.”

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