On Jan. 20, 2022, the Cathance River Education Alliance and Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust hosted a program on the role food systems and food waste play in climate change. Below, you can watch the session (at the bottom of this post), read summary highlights , find resources to learn more, and consider suggestions on what you can do to reduce emissions related to food.
Our guests were:
- Susanne Lee, Faculty Fellow at Mitchell Center developing sustainable food waste solutions for Maine businesses
- Nick Whately, Farmer practicing regenerative agriculture
- Julia Nelson, Gleaning Coordinator for Merrymeeting Gleaners
- Michael Dennett, Teacher, Farmer, and Agrovoltaics specialist
Highlights of the session include:
- Facts about our food system:
- Food waste is 3rd largest greenhouse gas emitter after US and China.
- One-third of food produced is never eaten.
- Food waste wastes not just the food, but also all the resources used to produce and transport it (water, fuel, fertilizer, etc).
- Food waste in landfills produce methane gas, which is 28x more damaging than CO2 in terms of climate change.
- Average family throws out $1800/yr of food.
- ‘Best-by’ date labeling (started after WW2 to help manufacturers with inventory) has no relevance to food safety and results in lots of wasted food.
- Untapped potential for food donation could cut hunger by 50%.
- 40% of Maine’s food is thrown away at a time when Maine leads New England in food insecurity.
- Regenerative agricultural practices can turn soil into a carbon sink.
- 50 – 70% of carbon (aka soil fertility) has been removed from soil in the U.S. due to erosion, aggressive tillage, fertilization, and pesticide use.
- Regenerative agricultural practices remove CO2 from the air and sequester it in soil. Practices include:
- No-till farming
- Use of permanent beds and walkways
- Leaving plant roots in the ground (to decompose and feed the soil)
- Growing cover crops to feed the soil and soil microbes
- Aerating soil with broadforks to minimize soil disturbance
- Planting companion plants to attract pollinators and repel unwanted pests
- Everyone can be part of the climate solution by supporting sustainable (waste-free) food systems.
- Agrovoltaics (grazing animals around solar arrays) pairs energy, meat, and wool production. Benefits include:
- Animal ‘mowing’ eliminates fossil fuel-powered mowing and associated rodent kill
- Solar arrays provide ideal grazing environment (diversity of grasses, shade)
- Sheep can go where mowers can’t
- Grazing improves the soil (manure) and creates habitat (voles, pollinators, etc)
- Segmented approach to grazing means there’s always habitat available
- Hay bale grazing in cold months enables farmers to improve poor quality pasture
- Plant-based diets vs. omnivores
- Plant-based diets are good for the climate.
- If you eat meat, eat less, and buy it locally.
- There is a role for pastured animals in Maine (e.g. soil improvement, grazing around solar arrays)
- Maine’s poor soils and northern climate are better suited to grass production, making it difficult to produce all our food here.
- The biggest climate impact of meat, globally, comes from deforestation (e.g. of rainforest to raise animals), Midwestern monocultures in the Midwest (growing grain to feed animals), and feedlots (methane emissions).
- Buy local (reduce food transportation costs and vulnerabilities associated with global food supply chains)
- Reduce your food waste (buy only what you need, donate food to food pantries before it spoils, compost your food waste at home or find a compost option locally, get backyard chickens!)
- Encourage local schools and businesses to reduce their food waste
- Never landfill food waste
- Check out the Food Recovery Hierarchy for guidance on how to reduce your food waste
- Create a local composting option in your community (Contact Susanne Lee – – for help identifying options)
- Volunteer for Merrymeeting Gleaners (in the field or warehouse) or support them financially. They glean excess food from farm fields and distribute it to food pantries and other programs.
- Buy locally produced meat
- Use regenerative, soil-building practices in your garden
- Learn whether there are composting options in your community.
- Design a meal around a food in your cupboard, refrigerator, or freezer that (if you weren’t paying attention), you would eventually throw out.
Additional resources mentioned during the session:
- https://www.mchpp.org/project/merrymeeting-gleaners/ Merrymeeting Gleaners website
- http://www.merrymeetingfoodcouncil.org/ Merrymeeting Food Council website
- https://garbagetogarden.org/: Composting service in Maine. They can set up compost drop off sites at local transfer stations in rural areas where they may not offer curbside pickup.
- www.growingtogive.farm Brunswick Farm that raises food for those in need.
- http://www.merrymeetingfoodcouncil.org/mfc-guides Guides to preparing vegetables.