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Reducing Food Loss on the Farm and the Kitchen Table

By Kacie Luckett, Luckett Farms

November 29, 2016

You know that feeling when you forgot to cook the oozing veggies at the bottom of the fridge? Or how about when you are scraping off the untouched food of your children’s plate? Guilty! Yes, I feel it too.

As a farmer, consumer, and working mom, my life can be a little hectic at times. I see food waste in both the fields of my farm and at my own kitchen table. It drives me almost as crazy as the ladies looking for “perfect” local produce at the farmer’s market.

Kacie Luckett and her family on their farm located in Central and Pride Louisiana.

Kacie Luckett and her family on their farm located in Central and Pride Louisiana.

So, what do I do as a farmer and a consumer to help eliminate food waste?

On the farm, our goal is to provide high quality food for our family and community. To accomplish this, we spend time planning, scheduling and preparing to prevent food loss before it happens. If we waste food on the farm, we are also squandering time, energy and money. It is not profitable for us to have food waste at the farm level.

So how do we prevent food waste at the farm?

First, before the seed ever touches the ground, we research varieties that both grow and sell well in our climates. The seeds in the catalogs and online are all so tempting to purchase. However, if the seeds are not suitable for our climate, then it is a waste of time, money, and effort. The varieties produced must also be pleasing to the customers. From experience, I learned that no one wants to purchase a 20-lb. Blue Hubbard squash to lug around the farmer’s market, and, with south Louisiana’s frequent precipitation, they don’t grow well in our area either.

Next, we put together a schedule of what to plant and when to plant it. This helps prevent an overabundance of one type of produce at one time. Everyone loves yellow summer squash, but there are only so many of Aunt Susie’s yellow squash casseroles you can make and enjoy in one week. So, we sticking to a planting schedule which has assisted us in preventing food waste at the farm.

Additionally, we prevent food waste at the farm by daily surveying and detecting problems in the fields. If we see a pest problem, then we can treat it accordingly, before it causes too much damage to a crop.

Prior to planting, we use crop rotation, cover crops and companion planting. The cultivation of dormant fields and plastic mulch assists in weed management and helps prevent some diseases. We rely on drip irrigation to efficiently water the crops, as mother nature has a proven her vicious sense of humor.

Picking our produce at peak ripeness is imperative to us to decrease waste. We harvest early in the mornings or late in the evenings, because here in South Louisiana, the temperatures can be fierce on both our worker and on our produce. By picking early in the morning or late in the evenings, we eliminate most of the field heat. Once harvested, we observe good handling practices and maintain cool storage temperature or proper protocol for each crop. This helps to maintain quality, reduce spoilage and extend shelf life, which in turn reduces food waste.

The unique thing about our farm operation is the different avenues that we utilize to reach our consumers. We offer a CSA (community supported agriculture program); sell at three local farmers markets; sell to an online grocery store, wholesalers, and restaurants; and donate to the local food banks. Utilizing multiple avenues is helpful because we can combat food waste by moving the produce that we have. The CSA also provides an outlet for our blemished vegetables. The produce doesn’t have to be perfect to go in the CSA box and is still good for the consumer eat.

Another distinctive part of our farm is education. I have the best of both worlds. I am a farmer, and I have the important job of educating our customers about my passion and their produce. I use social media, emails and face-to-face encounters to share knowledge and helpful tips. At the farmer’s market, I offer support and assistance on our various produce and general practices. I also educate customers about using blemished fruits and veggies and, with the help of a local spice shop, I even provide cooking classes. I provide weekly recipes for produce that we grow, storage tips, and freezing and canning instructions. Additionally, I also provide direction for composting, recycling and replanting. I am optimistic that my guidance for replanting the green onions, in a container outside your apartment door, will cultivate both a love and understanding of agriculture, while eliminating some food waste.

Unfortunately, the big picture is that, as Americans, we are spoiled. Our food supply is cheap, safe, readily available (even if it is not in season), and seems endless.

According to Dana Gunders of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC),

“Getting food to our tables eats up 10 percent of the total U.S. energy budget, uses 50 percent of U.S. land, and swallows 80 percent of freshwater consumed in the United States. Yet, 40 percent of food in the United States today goes uneaten. That is more than 20 pounds of food per person every month. This mean that Americans are throwing out the equivalent of $165 billion each year.” (NRDC Issue Paper, August 2012)

So, how can you help in decreasing food waste? Be actively aware. Take a few minutes to make sure you are storing your fruits, vegetables and meats properly. Then you can cook and freeze the veggies, for future use on one of the hectic nights. Share extras with family or friends. Make a plan, meal prep with the things you have on hand and eliminate some dinner chaos. Try a new recipes and incorporate left overs into the meal. Use the rotisserie chicken for dinner or boil it for a soup or gumbo for lunch the next day.

What can you do with the untouched food on the kids’ plates? It can actually be composted or some can even be replanted!  More ways to prevent food waste include going to the farmers market each week and buying what you need for the week. If you like a little more of an adventure, and more bang for your buck, join a CSA. Freeze your leftovers or bring them to work for lunch. Some scraps are safe for animals, our farm animals enjoy our fruits and veggies almost as much as we do.

If we all actively do our part, we don’t have to feel guilty about food waste.