Grim Reaping

For those of you new to the site, I’ve been researching the food wasted in America’s food chain for more than two years. The work has its highs (food donation research at a Bob Dylan show) and lows (working in a supermarket produce section), but seldom gets boring.

That’s because there’s so many areas in our food chain where waste occurs. For example, I’ve recently been looking into farm food waste. As America’s leading agricultural state, food waste isn’t hard to find in California (where I’ll soon visit).

salinas-landscape.jpgWhether it’s due to the requirements of shipping cross-country or bagging mishaps, heaps of lettuce are thrown away each day in the Salinas Valley, which humbly calls itself the “Salad Bowl to the World.” The Salinas Valley Solid Waste Authority has three drivers constantly shuttle green waste from big producers like Fresh Express to the landfill. Their busiest landfill receives 200 tons of ag waste daily.

Labor shortages also cause waste. A tightening on illegal immigration has made fruit and vegetable pickers hard to find, especially with year-round construction jobs siphoning off much of the illegal workforce. That situation can be disastrous, as with last year’s pear harvest. The California Farm Bureau Federation’s Dave Kranz said almost a third of the crop was lost when a cold spell made all the pears ripen at the same time and workers were few and far between.

Fortunately, there won’t be as many pears lost this year. Yet, an average season still involves plenty of waste, from fruits that ripen after picking to pears deemed the wrong shape or size. On a happy note, California food recovery groups like Ag Against Hunger and Senior Gleaners mitigate against some of the loss by collecting unwanted crops. But gleaning operations, which rely on a volunteer labor force, barely make a dent in the amount of produce that’s left to rot or plowed under. 

This entry was posted in Farm. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.