PeaceMeal: Putting Abundance To Good Use


Karen Pavone and Susan Lustenberger

Karen Pavone and Susan Lustenberger at the first PeaceMeal

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. IMG_4681

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.

Project Abundance "teen glean" volunteers Brie Hatfield and Haley Pavone

Project Abundance “teen glean” volunteers Brie Hatfield and Haley Pavone

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.

Susan Lustenberger serves up PeaceMeal to Gilead House director Jacque McLaughlin

Susan Lustenberger serves up PeaceMeal to Gilead House director Jacque McLaughlin

PeaceMeal at Gilead House

PeaceMeal at Gilead House

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!

Categories: Exhibitions and Events, Healthy Eating, Non-Profits


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  2. What a beautiful article, Karen, and most of all — what a fabulous idea — to glean food that would go to waste, and to provide a special meal at Gilead House! I have been SO impressed by the information and stories you have shared in your many Food for Thought articles. Your articles really do give us all something to think about! Keep up your great work!!! Xox Debbie

  3. Bravo to you all, Karen! As a Marin Master Gardener, I too see the waste of perfectly good food food as distressing. That said, there is also much work to be done to ensure the safety of the food we eat. My annual project, the Marin Garden Challenge, will take place May 4-11, 2013 all over Marin County. I’d love to have a chat with you about how I may support your efforts as well.
    Please contact me at the email below. For more info check out
    Thank you and Happy Holidays!

  4. Karen, this is a fantastic effort. A friend of mine, many years ago, started a similar campaign for the homeless in Los Angeles and it developed into a huge success, feeding thousands of people in need. Ray started with a rented U-Haul truck and just went door to door to supermarkets asking them for all the food they were going to throw out, dented cans, stale bread and the like… all perfectly good food but for one strange reason or another (mostly appearance) it was being tossed. He was a successful actor and did it once a week, by himself to start, and it grew from there into a non-profit, that employed about 200 people as I remember it (many previously homeless who were happy to work). Such a simple concept but so very important and as you say, most people don’t even think about it. Congrats to you and Haley.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your friend’s story Mike. I hope this idea inspires other like-minded individuals to create similar events around the country. It’s a no-brainer when you think about it. It cost us literally nothing but our time to put this dinner together. . .and the result was so gratifying! I really appreciate your support and kudos.

  5. Karen, this is so wonderful. I which you had recruited me to help cook. I would love to participate next year or any other time when you can use my help. I will also talk to Jillian about volunteering with Haley. I’m sure she would enjoy being a part of the “glean team”. I’m so proud of all the work you have done this year. You continue to inspire me!

    • I would love to have your help next year Gabriela! This first year was an experiment; but the outcome was so positive I’m sure we’ll be making this an annual event. And I will have Haley put Jillian on her list of contacts for Project Abundance teen gleanings.

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