As market shoppers, we care not only where our food comes from, but where it goes when we don’t eat it. Food waste is an immense concern that is gaining more public knowledge these days. Cities like Seattle have the privilege of a city-wide composting system…but what about all the food in between the markets and our compost bins? Read here for a short list on how shopping at Farmers Markets can help reduce your personal food waste.
According to the Seattle Public Utilities site, “40% of food in the United States goes uneaten,” which is equivalent to about 20 pounds per person per month. This can happen anywhere from waste at our homes or in food distribution systems and grocery stores. What is amazing, however, is that by choosing where you shop for food alone, you can help change this statistic. As our friends at CUESA say, “The National Resources Defense Council estimates that if we reduced our food waste by 15 percent, we could feed 25 million Americans. Making sure food gets into bellies instead of the landfill also ensures that precious water, labor, and money aren’t squandered.”
Though we may be a tad bit biased (we LOVE our Farmers Markets!), we think that choosing to shop directly with the farmers is a great first step in alleviating food waste everywhere. Here are some ways that shopping at Farmers Markets can help decrease food waste:
"Ugly" Produce and Seconds
As one of the newest and trendiest ways to eat away at food waste, the consumption of less than perfect apples is nothing new to your farmstand. Seconds (meaning less than the first choice) and ‘ugly’ produce are often available at your neighborhood market for a discounted rate. Maybe they have a bruise from a hail storm or are misshapen because, well, nature… you still get the same great flavor and can get the story of the imperfection from the farmer who was there to see it happen.
The fresher the produce is, the longer it lasts. And at the market, many of your favorite farmers harvested the day before or even morning of the markets. Some NFMA staff members say they’ve had lettuce heads last over two weeks!
Making food and storing it can be hard, especially when you’re a novice or are introduced to new types of veggies. But luckily, the person that knows this vegetable from seed to market usually has a pretty good idea about how to keep it fresh for as long as possible and prepare it in the tastiest way.
Small farm infrastructure
Articles written on food waste often cite farms as one of the main places where food waste happens, but this is not often the case for smaller farmers like those at our markets. The farmer may be given rigid guidelines for what their produce looks like by distributors, but everything else that doesn’t fit these guidelines is either composted to return to the earth where it came from (which is great for the soil!), fed to farm animals (which is great for their bellies!), or is stored effectively so that those farmers can sell them in direct market operations (like farmers markets). Interesting side note: direct sales like those at markets are often where farmers get the best return on their products, unlike wholesale for distributors.
Choice and variable quantities
As a shopper at the market, you have the option to choose exactly what you want to eat and the exact amount. You won’t find much packaging here, as most of our food you can buy in bulk, often in compostable boxes (or ones that you can give back to your farmer to reuse and save them a buck!). This power of choice may seem less than important to many of us, but is a mighty and empowering act for those in food-stressed times. Plus, by opting for just 2 apples instead of a pack of 5, we are less likely to throw away those extras if we were to accidentally forget them.
Value added and processing
Many of our farmers turn their storage and preservation tactics into more options for the consumers: those peaches at the peak of their ripeness are chopped and dried for peach-chips to be sold year-round and berries get cooked into delicious jams, jarred for winter-time toast.
Donations to food banks
This organization coordinates with neighboring food banks to pick up un-sold produce at the end of each market day that farmers and vendors are willing to donate. In 2017, for example, donations from farmers at market-day collections accounted for 56,242 pounds of food. These donations went directly to food-insecure families all around Seattle and avoided the landfill.
Sorted waste at markets
As an organization in Seattle, we are obliged to sort our waste at the markets themselves. As community gathering spaces, our vendors also offer ready-to-eat foods that mean plates and forks and boxes that are disposed of on the market day. While we encourage our vendors to use as much compostable packaging as possible, we still sort our customers’ waste as necessary each and every market day.
And what is really special is that all these factors are thanks to our hard working farmers and established systems for food waste. Despite what many may believe is a world of profit for new middle-men, these steps can be taken at the farmers market down the street and directly with farmers who grow your food.
And as with most issues, there is always room for improvement. We are constantly trying to do better and depend on your support as shoppers to help us do the best we can for the environment. Feel free to share any thoughts of improvement and different ways how you reduce your impact!