Technology can help to reduce the amount of produce that goes to waste.
Photo: Dreamstime.com

In today’s disposable world, it’s easy to be simultaneously overwhelmed by the amount of waste we all produce and are willing to turn a blind eye to. For most of us, the growing issue of waste perhaps seems like a problem too big for any of us to fix individually. Statistics from the Natural Resources Defense Council show 40 percent of food produced is lost. But not all produce goes to waste because consumers are throwing it out after the food is purchased. Plenty of produce goes to waste before it’s harvested, makes it out of retail or catering outlets, or during processing. That staggering figure got me thinking about not only how to improve my own food waste prevention tactics, but also who in the marketplace is innovating or investing in new waste-prevention technology.

As a horticulturist and home gardener, I’m always seeking new food and garden-related sustainability technology. While I practice old-school outdoor composting, I would love an automated built-in food composter in my kitchen that really works. While it seems waste-reduction and waste-to-energy innovation are seriously lagging for the home consumer, there are some serious innovative approaches and technologies happening on the production side of things.

For produce growers, technology that helps manage and reduce your inputs is of course crucial. But I’d assume most of you are just as concerned about helping to reduce loss of your product all along the supply chain. California-based California Safe Soil (CSS) is tackling both agricultural sustainability and food waste with their Harvest-to-Harvest line of liquid fertilizers. The fertilizers are made from organic waste collected from participating grocery stores. The food collected and recycled has passed the point where it’s considered safe to eat, but it adds up to a lot of wasted organic matter.

CSS uses large-scale enzymatic food digesters that don’t need water or produce an odor. Investing in and innovating this technology has allowed them to operate in urban areas close to the grocery stores that supply them. With deals in place with supermarkets such as Whole Foods, Save Mart, and Safeway, CSS is tackling both food waste and providing an eco-friendly food-safe waste-to-energy fertilizer for farmers. They call it their “Fork to Farm” fertilizer. I love this.

On the flip side of that technology, “The Good Food” grocery store in Germany collects ugly produce local farmers and other producers would normally pitch and then resells it for whatever their customers want to pay for it. The big “pay what you want” discount on less-than-perfect fruits and veggies is a great value for customers and an effective tool for combating food waste. With some U.S. grocery stores adopting areas to sell “ugly produce,” you may have new retail opportunities to keep some of your less-than-perfect produce from going to waste.

As previously stated, though, produce doesn’t always make it to the grocery store. How much of your potential harvest goes to waste before it leaves your facility? If you’re looking to invest in systems to recycle your own organic waste on-site, be sure to check out the European Union sponsored Food to Waste to Food (F2W2F) initiative and research that uses anaerobic digesters with heat and microbes (and then a second stage with earthworms) to recycle food waste, specifically with the goal of reducing energy costs in greenhouse production systems. This recycling is accomplished using biogas plants and aims to provide energy, fertilizer, and CO2 for greenhouse production. Another goal of this project is to significantly reduce CO2 emissions out of greenhouses.

When it comes to post-harvest waste reduction, Nature’s Frequencies in Brockton, Mass. has developed small cards, called the Food Freshness Card that has applications for growers during harvest, transport, grocery stores, commercial food prep and storage areas, and home kitchen environments. I’m not sure how exactly these small cards work (they say something to the effect of patent pending frequency and scalar wave technology), but they claim to reduce food waste by up to 50 percent by inhibiting fungi and bacterial growth. The cool thing about this product is that they are small and can be used in varied applications; plus, it appears you can have them customized for produce packaging. Let me tell you, if my organic strawberry packages came complete with a tiny card in the lid that kept the fruit fresh 50 percent longer, I’d buy a lot more strawberries (and dump far fewer moldy ones in the compost pile).

With feeding a growing population becoming an ever-pressing challenge, and increasingly extreme weather causing potential produce shortages (note the recent vegetable shortage in Europe due to severe floods and snow in Spain), investing in technology to reduce waste and recycle sustainably in greenhouse production facilities is not only better business, but also an environmental necessity. Creating innovative products and tools that help us save our food, is ultimately the future of the food industry.

Leslie (CPH) owns Halleck Horticultural, LLC, through which she provides horticultural consulting, business and marketing strategy, product development and branding, and content creation for green industry companies. lesliehalleck.com