ST. LOUIS — Americans waste 30 percent to 40 percent of the nation’s food – waste that comes from farmer fields, distributor warehouses, grocery stores, restaurants or our homes.
While this U.S. Department of Agriculture figure quantifies a problem, some see it as a timely opportunity. The St. Louis Area Foodbank, for one, uses it to fill its warehouse spaces.
“Hunger is an invisible problem,” said Shannon O’Connor, product sourcing manager for the food bank. “In our area, every one person out of six is food insecure.”
O’Connor’s comment was shared during a St. Louis Agribusiness Club panel discussion that also featured Chip Lerwick of Aon Foods, Ashley Rube of the food bank and Sara Koziatek of St. Louis Composting.
The panelists explored growing value of food waste in their operations:
- The food bank is one within a network of 200 across the nation in the Feeding America program. Its territory is 14 Missouri counties and 12 Illinois counties; Illinois is served by seven regional Feeding American food banks. It supplies shelf stable food, produce, meat, dairy and personal items to 500 food pantries, homeless shelters, senior centers and other agencies with food giveaways. It also maintains a fleet of 15 delivery trucks.
- The food bank delivered 43 million pounds of food in 2018, including 11 million pounds of produce.
- A goal this year is to increase the amount of produce from local farms and boost the nutritional value of its donations. The food bank has established partnerships with two local farms, including one sweet corn producer in Collinsville, and seeks others.
- While the food bank employs a staff to oversee operations, plan pick up and deliveries, secure government and grant funding, run the warehouse and more, it does rely on “an army of volunteers” to help with reboxing food, stacking it on pallets.
- Only legally edible foods are collected by the food bank, including B and C grade produce which may only be cosmetically downgraded.
- Food bank partners are working on the USDA’s U.S. Food Waste Challenge. Since the food loss and waste goal in the United States was launched in 2015, calling for a 50 percent reduction by 2030. USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency is working with charitable organizations, faith organizations, the private sector and local, state and tribal governments to reduce food loss and waste in order to improve overall food security and conserve our nation’s natural resources.
- St. Louis Composting works with restaurants and others in the region to collect inedible food scraps to supplement its compost making process.
- Learn more about food banks at www.STLFoodbank.org and www.feedingamerica.org.