Earlier this week, I indicated I was going to investigate food recovery in my local area and I was pleasantly surprised for the City of Fargo. Although my knowledge on the subject is still fairly limited, I learned that my little ‘ol town of Fargo, ND has done pretty well in both recovering food that could be used for feeding those who need it, but also in regards to reducing the other issues associated with food in our landfills. If my experience is any indicator to what you can find in your area, you can easily find out information about your city and how they are doing.
The first thing that impressed me is the speed in which these local officials and organizations responded. I send a few inquiry emails late Wednesday night and received much of the information I was looking for on Thursday. The information I found can be broken up into two parts, Food Recovery and Waste Management.
The City of Fargo Sold Waste Utility Manager, Terry Ludlun, contacted me directly by phone to let me know about the things they are doing to best serve the city and people. I completely understand that there is ALWAYS a way to do things better and Terry somewhat indicated that our waste process is continually a work in process and research will continue to find better ways to take care of the trash. But for the time being, I think we are doing fairly well.
Methane does emit from our landfill, but Ludlun informed me that the City of Fargo is capturing this and selling it! Methane is a horrible gas for the environment and if we can capture and use this gas… great! To date, the city has generated over 11 Million KW Hours from the methane generated at our landfill. This number can be tracked real time here and the methane process is outlined here. Not only does the city capture and use this energy, the City of Fargo is also one of only one of eight municipalities on the Chicago Climate Exchange. The city list is close to a ‘who’s who in hippie land’…. and Fargo. Berkely, Portland, Fargo. It is pretty awesome in my book.
Even though we capture and sell methane gas, Ludlun also discussed food waste and why it is in the landfill to begin with. Fargo does have a composting program for leaves and clippings during the warm months, but he gave a few reasons outside of selling methane why we do not have a permanent food composting program:
- Apparently, large scale composting can be difficult in climates such as ours. Now, I do not know the science behind this, but I do know that it does get very very very very cold in Fargo, ND. If you have ever seen the movie Fargo, you caught a glimpse of just how cold it can get. There are several stereotypes that I think are overblown in that movie, but the frigid cold is not one. I drive my car onto frozen lakes and fish; that is how cold it gets. Anyhow, it certainly would make sense that this might cause difficulties for food composting year round and obviously there is no yard clippings in the winter months.
- Ludlun also indicated that other areas in the county’s middle region have experienced a perception problem when food is introduced into lawn/leaf compost. Namely, compost usage goes down when people find things like bones in the received compost. Creating compost supposes that there will be a demand for that compost and if usage goes down, then there is a real problem.
These were some reasons why we are not currently composting food in the City of Fargo, but I know that they are continuing to work on better solutions for us. I know this because they have recently changed our garbage program in a manner that will likely increase recycling dramatically and make us even greener.
Although it is great to see that my community is taking steps to appropriately use food waste, another important (probably more so) part of this is getting good food out of the garbage and into the hands of those who can use it. With a good number of families living in poverty, it should be imperative for us as a society to accomplish this. I thought a good place to look for how this works locally was to contact the Salvation Army. They, in turn, directed me to Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota. Once again, I was contacted very quickly by the folks at LSSND.
The LSSND representative invited Ashley and I to take a tour of the statewide food recovery and distribution center, which is absolutely great. As soon as I can connect with them outside of email, I am going to try and set up a time where we can go see where the magic happens. Possibly, I will have another post with pictures to show my adventure.
They also indicated in the email that last year they recovered 6 million pounds of food valued at more than $8.36 million dollars. In a state where our population is about 650k, that is not chump change. Of particular interest to me are the perishable food programs. I was informed that they work with over 50 restaurants, grocery stores, hospitals, colleges, and bakeries to recover surplus product. That is absolutely great. Since starting this week’s challenge, I have heard rumors of various organizations locking dumpsters or intentionally throwing bleach on perfectly good food. I am not privy to if this actually happens, but if so… what a shame. We should be doing our best to get these food products to those that need it. Not only does it benefit the hungry, which is most important, it also is environmentally responsible. Less food in the landfills means less space taken and less methane gas pumped into the air. A big hug goes out to the folks at LSSND and there are many in our state that appreciates what you do.
OK, I have rambled on enough and think I might have become a little passionate about this subject. It really is a shame that perfectly good food goes in the garbage when it could either be given to people who need it or composted. This week, I learned that my city is doing fairly well in the food recovery and waste management department. I think there is always room for improvement but it is nice to know that the folks in my area are taking active steps to ensure a better community. If this is something that interests you, I would suggest reaching out in your community to see what they are doing and possibly you will find a great volunteer opportunity. Please let me know about any great green programs from your area in the comments section below.