October 14, 2023
Three barriers stood between wasted food and the hungry residents of a shelter on Harvard Street in Santa Paula.
“Time, temperature and moisture are the enemies of food recovery,” said Kay Wilson-Bolton, volunteer director of Spirit of Santa Paula, the nonprofit administering the shelter. To feed the hungry, not landfills, a new initiative had to overcome these barriers.
With help from donations and a grant from CalReycle, the state recycling agency, through a project administered by a coalition led by the county of Ventura, Spirit of Santa Paula obtained two refrigerated trucks, four commercial refrigerators and four commercial freezers.
“Now the biggest barrier is letting caterers, restaurants and deli counters know that we can safely handle the food they throw away at the end of each day,” said Wilson-Bolton. “They keep their food at the right temperatures, and as long as they give it to a qualified organization like us that knows how to keep the food from spoiling, they are protected from liability.”
Already this year, Spirit of Santa Paula, with a capacity of 49 residents at the Harvard Street site, has transitioned 22 people into permanent housing, calling these successes “Harvard graduates.” Nearly all food provided by the shelter to these residents was donated leftovers that would have otherwise been wasted.
Other shelters are also part of the growing food recovery initiative, which is now backed by a coalition of eight local cities and the county of Ventura, under a mandate to recover at least 20% of edible food statewide by 2025. Last month, following a competitive procurement process, the county’s Integrated Waste Management Division, which leads and is funding the first projects of this group, issued a notice of intent to award $371,000 to an organization with a contract to help these jurisdictions meet the mandate. Abound Food Care, a Santa Ana-based contractor, has completed similar programs in Ventura County and elsewhere for 11 years.
Edible food generators are divided into two categories. Each of the two “tiers” has a different deadline for compliance with mandates to contract with an organization such as Spirit of Santa Paula, Oxnard Rescue Mission, Community Action of Ventura County or others for pickup and distribution of edible food discards. Tier 1 generators, which were required to recover as much of their food as possible by last year, include wholesale food vendors, food service providers and distributors, supermarkets and grocery stores over 10,000 square feet. Tier 2 generators, which have until the beginning of next year to comply, include restaurants over 5,000 square feet, hotels over 200 rooms with on-site food facilities, local education agencies with on-site food facilities, large venues and events, state agencies with cafeterias and health facilities with on-site food facilities and more than 100 beds.
Working with city and county representatives, Abound will link generators to partners capable of collection, helping maintain records required by state and local authorities to monitor compliance. Abound will also make the requirements clear to affected businesses and conduct site visits. Abound’s proposed 14-month contract is scheduled to go to the Board of Supervisors for approval in December.
Food recycling into compost, which is not as high a priority as food recovery to feed hungry people, is spreading through curbside cart collection and business bin collection. These programs, mostly initiated over the past year, grew as a result of a 2018 state law, Senate Bill 1383, to reduce methane emissions caused by food rotting in landfills.
However, cutting climate-changing gas, saving resources, strengthening soil and boosting businesses were not the only goals of the legislation. Another major goal is to feed hungry people, using food that is edible but just not available to the right people at the right time.
Efforts to increase edible food recovery broaden the appeal of waste prevention programs, adding a social component to economic and environmental benefit.
David Goldstein, an environmental resource analyst with the Ventura County Public Works Agency, can be reached at 805-658-4312 or firstname.lastname@example.org.