Sunday, May 17, 2009

Feeding Chickens

Each year Americans waste 96 million pounds of edible food, enough to feed 80 million people for a day. One third of edible food is wasted, and one third of what's dumped into landfills is food. A New York Times article has sobering statistics, a graphic depicting the amount of food the average American family of four wastes in a month, and states that American food waste amounts to one pound per person per day. Not only is the wasted food not eaten, but the decomposing food in landfills creates methane gas, which contributes to global warming. When we calculate how much energy and resources go into producing, transporting, preparing, and packaging food that will go on to be wasted (again with transportation and disposal costs for this waste), it's just depressing!

Most people believe that wasting food is bad, but few people realize how prevalent food waste actually is, and how it occurs at every level of food production. Restaurants and cafeterias throw out tons of perfectly good edible food daily. Bakeries, delis and supermarkets throw out day-old items and cosmetically imperfect food items. Food banks tend to be an inadequate solution to prepared food waste, as many don't accept perishable foods or foods that are not wrapped in individual servings. Many places that do accept fifty pounds of sliced fresh tomatoes, for example, all seem to have warehouses outside of urban centers, they only accept donations during weekday afternoon hours when restaurant people are preparing dinner, and not at all during the weekend, when many catering events occur. As a result, lots of high-quality food winds up in the garbage.

How does Black Cat Natural Foods handle food waste? First we strive to reduce it as much as possible. We don't use prepackaged, pre-cut vegetables the way many establishments do. We change our bread order every day to reduce bread waste. We use locally grown foods when possible and order half or partial cases of vegetables to reduce spoilage waste. Because we cook from scratch, with whole foods, and in small batch sizes, there is very little daily food waste besides vegetable trimmings.

These vegetable trimmings are brought to feed poultry and other animals on an urban farm approximately one mile from our commercial kitchen. At right, the beginning of a typical Black Cat "chicken bucket" with trimmings from organic Romaine lettuce, carrots, cucumbers, and apple cores.

The farm has about 30 chickens, about 20 ducks, 3 geese, 5 rabbits, and 3 quail at the time of writing. The poultry live well in a sheltered coop and scratching yard and are let outside into a meadow for daytime foraging; then they are sheltered from predatory raccoons and other enemies in the evenings. They produce eggs that help to feed 6-10 households, which help contribute to their care. Several rescued or abandoned animals have found a home here, including wood ducks, abandoned roosters, and local Wildlife Rehab animals.

At right, the farm's chickens in their scratching yard. The chickens are a variety of heritage breeds including Americana, Speckled Sussex, French Maran, and New Hampshire Reds. Also visible is an adolescent rabbit (middle left) and an Americana-cross rooster (right of the center of the photo). Photo, bottom right: farm egg in a nesting box.

Despite all of the many environmentally sound reasons to donate our food scraps to these animals, the biggest reward is getting to watch the birds eat (well, okay, the occasional egg or two, still warm from the nest, is also pretty great). When the birds see us coming, carrying our buckets, they all come running to the fence. The geese start squawking loudly, as if to say "give us the Romaine lettuce cores!" When we toss the goodies into the scratching yard, it's fun to watch the ducks go for the cucumber ends and the chickens grabbing and chasing each other for cheese rinds. Amazingly, the urban farm was recently able to stop buying grain-based feed for the animals because local food donations alone can sustain them. To learn more about keeping urban chickens, upcoming poultry classes in the Twin Cities area, and how you can contribute to and benefit from this truly sustainable food cycle, check out UrbanAgrarian

As individuals, we can help decrease food waste by shopping sensibly and re-learning how to cook and eat our leftovers. We can compost our household food waste. We can support local restaurants, cafeterias, and grocery stores that strive to manage food waste responsibly.
  • Instead of throwing out overripe or bruised fruit, make juice, a smoothie, a pie, or apple/fruit sauce
  • Instead of discarding stale bread, make homemade croutons, bruschetta, or bread pudding
  • Instead of throwing away meat and veggies, make them into pot pies, chile, or soup stock
  • Rather than throwing out extra rice, make it into fried rice with other leftovers, or rice pudding
  • Onion skins can deter grazing pests-- place them around the garden
  • Make too much food? Freeze some, make a second recipe, or make up a portion to give to a friend or neighbor
  • Freeze beef and bison bones as treats for your favorite neighborhood pooch! Save poultry bones for homemade stock.
Above: is this the easter bunny? No, it's just one of the farm rabbits, cuddling with Phil and showing off three different colors of eggs laid by the farm's different breeds of chickens. Left: Jacques, the farm's gray Champagne D'Argent rabbit, has a cozy hutch outside the chickens' scratching yard. Jacques' favorite scraps include lettuce leaves and carrots (pictured).

1 comment:

  1. What an absolutely concise, well written piece! This should be available for all to see. I used to work in a large commercial bakery and it made me sad to see how much good food was thrown away. And, how many pre-made mixes were used, when "from scratch" would have been just as easy. I don't let one shortbread get thrown away. If damaged, they become samples, or a treat shared with a friend.