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Wednesday, May 3, 2017

To Waste or Not to Waste - by Rebecca Veenstra

   In the USA, 30-40% of the food supply is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills.

     Statistics like that are disturbing all by themselves. When you pair that statistic with the number of hungry people in the U.S. and around the world it becomes even more upsetting. It is true that we should be more responsible with how we allocate food resources. Globally, there are enough resources to ensure that people don’t starve. However, the powers that be use different statistics to further their own causes instead of meeting the needs of the people.

     So, if we can’t personally end world hunger—if the US continues to waste food resources at such astronomical levels—is there another way to turn these lemons into lemonade?

     Well, in order to see the big picture let’s consider for a minute the amount of chemical fertilizers applied agriculturally in the United States.

     In the United States in 2014 according to world bank statistics approximately 745 lbs. of chemical fertilizer were applied per acre of usable land. North America produces and sells more fertilizer than any country in the world. North America is also the world’s second largest consumer of fertilizer.

     Ok, so we have all this food waste, and we are one of the world’s leaders in the use of chemical applications to our farmlands. How can we take these two statistics and use them to overcome our dependence on chemical fertilizers and make good use of the astronomical amount of food we waste every year? Perhaps if we took another approach we could revitalize our farmlands and make good use of the extraordinary amount of foods wasted in our country.

     In 2010, World Foods Markets took a new approach to this issue that I think we could all learn from. The stores capture out-of-date food from each of the departments, as well as from its administrative and customer service areas, and place it into a compost container located at the rear of the store. Waste Management collects the container and takes it to a site…where it is mixed with yard wastes and, over a six-month period, converted into compost. These stores recovered and re-purposed more than 1,100 tons of food wastes in the first year the program was implemented.

     Just think if every store in the country took the time to separate out compostable items from their daily waste? If one business can re-purpose over a thousand tons of waste per year, the amount of waste we could re-purpose nationally is potentially staggering. If we could apply the resulting compost to our farmlands the impact could be revolutionary to our nation’s depleted soils.

     Another use for compost was discovered by a company called Filtrexx out of Ohio. They developed the compost sock which is a tube filled with compost that can be used to protect waterways from pollution. The compost tubes filter water from storm water runoff and construction sites by capturing pollutants that would otherwise contaminate our waterways. These compost tubes work much more effectively than the industry standard silt fences that we are accustomed to seeing.

     How brilliant is that? The compost socks can also be used in agricultural applications. Plants can be planted directly into the tubes removing the need to till the soil. They can be used in greenhouses as well as farmlands. The plants root directly through the tube into the ground allowing for weed-free, chemical free cultivation.

     So, what does this have to do with cannabis and Michiganders? Well, for starters we are all contributors to this food waste problem. Statistics say we all throw out twenty pounds of food per month, and a lot of Michiganders use chemical fertilizers. Additionally, our new marijuana laws are written in a such a manner as to promote large scale cannabis cultivation that unfortunately could likely lead to large scale chemical fertilizer use.

   What if we initiate more conscientious methods in our own homes and demand that the inevitable new big marijuana farms do the same?

     According to the statistics there is plenty of food waste to accomplish this. If we insist the businesses we frequent re-purpose food wastes and if we refuse to accept chemically produced cannabis in our marketplace we could potentially create a new movement that will not in any way reduce business revenue, which is ultimately the deciding factor in the long run.

     People are all abuzz about these new laws and the potential for money making off cannabis in our State. There is a lot of talk about the “side-businesses” that will rise up to coincide with Marijuana commerce like marketing and grow supplies.

     Wouldn’t it be revolutionary to see Michigan develop large scale composting systems to provide all of Michigan’s farmers of cannabis and other agricultural products with healthy grow mediums and fertilizers that will enhance the health of our foods and herbs as well as livestock and farmland. We could use compost to protect our waterways in both agricultural and urban applications. Even hydroponic cultivators can use compost based products.

     I am sure there are plenty of people out there to argue that chemicals are easier and less work. I am sure plenty of people would say it’s easier to throw things out than to take the time to re-purpose them. I am sure that in the long run probably those people will win their way unless we stand up for ourselves and take the initiative to begin the movement at home. Insist on organic cannabis. Insist businesses in your community re-purpose their compostable waste.

     The ultimate outcome will be that people with dollar signs in their eyes will embrace the movement in order to profit. We will see large scale compost operations in our State that will provide jobs and healthy grow mediums to our agricultural producers. If people refuse to contribute to large scale food waste and turn down chemically grown products in the marketplace the only way to make a buck will be to satisfy the demands of the people. In the end, we do have the power. Only by complacency will we lose it.

Rebecca Veenstra
Founder, New World Seeds 
of Traverse City


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