Renowned American cultural anthropologist Margaret Mead once said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
As a farm to table advocate and activist, I have had the pleasure of writing about our local farm community for over a year now. In the process of educating myself about where my food comes from and meeting those who produce it, I’ve become aware of a systemic problem that is cause for concern: the problem of food waste.
It’s not something we generally think about, but the amount of edible food wasted in this country is criminal: a staggering 40 percent of crops ready for harvest in the United States end up as landfill. That’s more than 20 pounds of food per person thrown away every month! According to local non-profit Marin Organic, approximately 20 percent of produce grown at Marin County farms becomes waste. . . the left over bounty tilled under as fertilizer at the end of each season.
Sadly, many have developed an indifference to the value of food. I see constant examples of this in my neighborhood–fruit trees, producing more than the owner can handle, dropping their surplus on the ground where it is left to rot. Green cans stuffed with over-grown garden vegetables, and broken branches still bearing discarded citrus.
Meanwhile, people are starving on our planet. Hunger exists within our own community–a hard reality that should humble us all.
For whatever reason, consumers believe that perfection is the standard for judging their produce. Slightly bruised, oddly shaped specimens never make it to the grocery aisle. Judged as “inferior” these perfectly edible, nutritious foods are tossed as garbage because buyers will pass them over every time.
Appalled by these statistics, I joined forces with friend and former White Rose Ranch chef Susan Lustenberger. Our challenge was two-fold: to draw attention to this issue and make a positive difference in our community using surplus food. Together we created PeaceMeal–a dinner comprised of food gleaned from local farms and businesses that would otherwise go to waste.
Partnering with Gilead House, a Novato-based transitional residence for women and children in need, we envisioned the meal as a celebration of non-violence and second chances–recurring themes the residents share as they move forward to rebuild their lives.
Piecemeal, in the traditional sense, is defined as “something accomplished bit by bit or piece by piece“–a word that captured our efforts to collect ingredients for the feast from several sources. With the help of Project Abundance, a “teen glean” effort headed by Novato High School junior Haley Pavone, volunteers harvested over 100 pounds of end-of-season heirloom tomatoes and fennel from an organic farm in Bolinas which were made into fresh tomato sauce for the meal. Volunteers also gathered fallen apples from neighborhood trees which became the base for a delicious dessert.
Many local businesses enthusiastically rallied around the cause, generously donating their surplus for the dinner. Our sincere thanks to Whole Foods Novato (Ben Lazzarini), Stemple Creek Ranch Beef (Lisa & Loren Poncia), Nicasio Valley Cheese Company (Lynette & Rick Lafranchi), Just Struttin’ Farm (Deann DaSilva), Fresh Run Farm (Will Scott), Marin Organic (Kerry McGrath), Miguel Villarreal, Project Abundance volunteers, and Smart & Final for their support in making the first PeaceMeal a resounding success.
On December 5th, the women and children of Gilead House, along with staff, mentors, and board members, sat down to enjoy the first PeaceMeal: pasta with a choice of vegetarian organic heirloom tomato or meat sauce, Caesar salad, cheese & garlic sourdough bread, and hot apple crisp for dessert.
Change starts with awareness. Sometimes making a difference is as simple as recognizing a problem, and finding a way to create a solution. Our small-scale endeavor to take wasted food and turn it into a delicious dinner is just a drop in bucket when viewed from a “big picture” stance. Small but powerful. It’s a start.
*If you live in Novato, California and have surplus fruit or garden vegetables in your yard, contact PROJECT ABUNDANCE at 415-892-1102 to schedule a free home harvest by their dedicated volunteer glean team. All harvested food is donated to the Marin Food Bank for distribution to families in need in our community. Thank you!