“Waste not, want not.” That’s the saying…we’ve all heard it…but have we given it much thought? What does it really mean? Well, a quick internet search tells us that it’s a “proverb,” simply stating that “if you use a commodity or resource carefully and without extravagance, you will never be in need.”
“Waste” can be used as a noun, verb, or an adjective. Most definitions revolve around the inadequate use of something or a byproduct that is perceived to have no use. In a biological or ecological system, one organism’s waste is another’s resource. This “waste as a resource” is how Salvation Farms and farmers view farm-raised products that have no market outlet. These products aren’t waste but rather are valuable resources to be put to use by soil organisms, farm animals, and, hopefully, people.
Food on farms, food without a market, builds capacity in all kinds of communities, communities that need the nutrients and energy contained within. Given Salvation Farms’ knack for utilizing resources within our natural, human, and business communities – we invited a guest writer to offer their perspective on waste and how disregarding the optimal uses of food is a disregard for the life force that exists in all living things, including the soil.
Karl Hammer, Founder and President of Vermont Compost Company shares:
First there was magma and steam, then rock and water, the rest is soil history. Half a billion years ago, plants, partnering with fungus, bacteria, and other organisms, evolved to harness the energy of the sun through the process of photosynthesis to reform the surface of the earth to support complex life. This collaboration is soil.
There is but one soil, it is in motion, including ocean, land, and atmosphere. People are a recent development of the soil collective. We emerge foraging, hunting, talking, singing, dancing, and telling stories. For the first million years, we are few and we resemble other animals in a world principally organized by plant communities.
Then, seemingly suddenly, ten thousand years ago, a cascade of new human technologies alters the way humans coexist with other species in the soil community. Writing, agriculture, steel, shipping, trade, war and empire radically change the earth’s surface and the ways in which humans feed themselves. Foraging, hunting, and living from the products of self-organized sea and land gives way to sustenance from human-managed (and mismanaged) soils.
This brings us to our present geological era: The Anthropocene; the era when humans have become the principal organizing force of the biosphere.
We are walking soil. What is our responsibility to the soil community? What does this have to do with food waste?
Food is soil.
Food is soil in motion.
To waste food is a choice.
Food is wasted when it is entombed in landfills.
Food should feed people, feed livestock, and feed the soil.
Compost making is a process to rescue and respect the value of food that has passed its eat-by date. The Latin root of compost means to combine material to enhance usefulness as food for soil. Spoiled food blended with livestock manure, crop residuals, and forestry byproducts make the whole more valuable than the sum of its parts. The rapid sequence of metabolic events, a vast symphony of eating, excreting, and dying, sweetens the putrid and stabilizes the nutrients, optimizing the value to the soil.
Food is a need shared by all people.
Wasting food is wasting soil.
Soil is where the food comes from.
Local food production is essential for food security and political sovereignty.
In the past 12 months, many things have taken place and shape at Salvation Farms – from fully relaunching our original Lamoille Valley gleaning program, to moving more than 221,000 pounds of fruits and veggies that would have remained on farms, to engaging almost 300 volunteers, to strategic planning.
We invite you to join us and other gleaners on farms and in fields across Vermont this harvest season. Harvest and collect crops not going to market and help more of your neighbors eat locally. Become a gleaner today, register with the Vermont Gleaning Collective – and get involved. Assisting with community-based gleaning efforts is great for anyone and everyone!
Our Vermont Commodity Program continues to build personal agency and food security in our community. Since January, eight individuals successfully completed our 16-week, Vermont Commodity work-readiness program. We are pleased to share that five trainee participants were supported by our partnership with Vermont Works for Women.
For nearly a year Salvation Farms has been blessed by the incredible service provided by AmeriCorps VISTA member, Jake Kornfeld. Recently, Jake – who serves our Vermont Commodity Program – shared these thoughts:
VISTA is a remarkably apt title for my AmeriCorps service year, which has afforded me a sweeping view of what it looks like to build a resilient food system. Like all good views, its vastness intimidates, but above all, it inspires. Salvation Farms’ vision for our community is complex and bold, but it is equitable, sustainable, and hopeful.
The chance to take a broad view has shown me how Salvation Farms employs a systems-thinking approach, strategically considering how to direct organizational energy and how programs leverage surplus crops to strengthen our community. A narrower focus, the day-to-day lens, has proven the evolution of our work. Vermont Commodity Program operations are becoming smoother and more efficient with each successful cohort of trainee participants.
At each turn, I have seen the incredible passion and energy that the Salvation Farms team pours into this work. The relationships they build and the ideas they turn into actions are what make the big picture possible. I have seen them come up against unforeseeable challenges, yet I have seen their creativity and dedication turn those challenges into opportunities. Being able to observe this team and support this organization has been inspirational, formative, and fulfilling. I can’t imagine the view could have been better anywhere else.
The effort to better understand why edible produce remains unsold and uneaten on farms is a complicated one. While Salvation Farms has been working intimately in this realm for more than a dozen years, who is better poised to explain this than the farmers?
In 2016, Salvation Farms produced the first empirical data on farm-level food loss in New England. Through surveying farmers, we quantified on-farm food loss and investigated reasons for the losses – namely market saturation, cosmetic blemishes, and labor shortages.
We are proud to share that the results of our study have been published in The Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems and Community Development. Lead author Roni Neff, PhD, program director at the Johns Hopkins Center for a Livable Future, explains that “there is a remarkable gap in data on waste and loss of food on farms in the US. This study provides the first such data for Vermont.”
We know there is an abundance of surplus – but what do farmers want to do about it? To answer that, Salvation Farms engaged an intern from Champlain College who spent the early spring analyzing 24 Vermont farmer interviews (conducted in January of 2017 by Middlebury College students).
While a report has yet to be finalized, some key recommendations from farmers have emerged: 1) secondary market for blemished or imperfect produce, 2) logistics support including labor, storage, and brokering services, and 3) streamlined surplus capture systems including consistent pick-ups and scheduled communication
Food loss on farms (that which remains unharvested or unsold once picked) is not waste but a valuable resource – it builds capacity on the farm…just like Salvation Farms is building capacity within our organization. We have spent the past five months crafting a strategic plan to outline our priorities and goals for the coming three years. This valuable investment – to cultivate our team, our community, our programs, our purpose – has allowed us to turn inward to identify how to fully capitalize off of the resources within and around our organization.
Rose Wilson, business consultant, returned to work with Salvation Farms this winter/spring to support our team through strategic planning. In reflection, Rose offered these thoughts:
In 2014, I assisted Salvation Farms draft its first strategic plan. Four years later, we reconnected to review, assess, and update the plan. The original plan focused on expanding staff and adding management capacity. At that time, all decision-making fell squarely on the Executive Director.
Coming back to see an Operations Director on board and the Gleaning Coordinator role evolved from a VISTA into a permanent position was thrilling. But what really struck me was the writing and updating of the strategic plan: the effort was led by the Operations Director. This solidified for me that yes, not only had the hiring of staff occurred but that the objective behind it, the delegation of authority, had also transpired.
As a business advisor, to see not only the action items implemented but their achieving the desired result is extremely gratifying. Seeing Salvation Farms embrace the strategic steps necessary to support its ability to enact real change in the world is inspirational. Here’s to the next three years of growth and transformation to come.
Through capturing stakeholder, staff, and board insights, we identified the following areas to focus our energy to strengthen our work in the coming years: developing our board and leadership, defining organizational culture, improving administrative systems, refining impact metrics, and diversifying funding streams.
On that note – you are critical to ensure our work continues and our capacity is strengthened. This summer, we have a $20,000 match. Please help us meet this match to ensure our work continues for years to come. Give today – donations can be made online HERE or by sending a check payable to Salvation Farms to PO BOX 1174, Morrisville, VT 05661.
In addition to supporting us financially, please consider volunteering with Salvation Farms! We want you to see what a difference you can make with us.
In celebration – if you are in Vermont or up for a trip to the green mountain state, here are two things worth noting:
Our friends at Rock Art Brewery are brewing up another batch of the delicious Humble Harvester. Cheers to that! Watch for it on tap and in stores across the state this fall.
And SAVE THE DATE: Join us at the Oxbow Music Festival – Saturday, August 25th in Oxbow Park, downtown Morrisville, VT.
Salvation Farms is excited to be the festival’s non-profit beneficiary again this year – receiving 100% of funds generated from the day’s raffle. Your attendance and purchase of raffle tickets will further Salvation Farms’ mission! You could win a great prize from Rock Art Brewery, Turtle Fur, Way Out Wax, and more!
Children twelve and under are free – Adults $25 at the gate, $20 in advance. For more information, visit: www.oxbowmusicfestival.com
One final piece of news… keep watch later this summer for our NEW website! Thanks to the help of super volunteer, Hannah Dreissigacker, we’ll have a fresh look soon.
“I’ve been enjoying working on Salvation Farm’s new website – the organization does so much great work and I’m excited to be helping them share and communicate it. I’ve had fun learning more about the organization and I hope the new site will help others do the same. ”- Hannah Dreissigacker