As part of our mission to make America’s food culture more delicious, diverse, and sustainable, the James Beard Foundation is reflecting on its own policies and practices and how they affect the food system. Below, vice president Kris Moon gives insight into the genesis and implementation of a new compost pilot program at the Beard House.
The James Beard Foundation formally announced the Impact Programs in 2016, selecting food waste as one of our four major areas of focus. Since then, we have been engaging the broader culinary community in discussions and trainings around reducing waste in their kitchens, experimenting with ways to address portion size in restaurants to reduce post-consumer waste, and helping connect them to various community resources for diverting unused food to feeding centers, and food scraps to compost or to farms for animal feed.
As we continue to educate the community about this issue and encourage them to take steps toward further reduction, we recognize that it’s important for JBF to make efforts to reduce our own contributions to food waste that arise from the food events that we do around the country. As a first step, we are focusing on the historic James Beard House, where we host as many as 200 events a year.
This summer, in partnership with our carting company, M&M Sanitation, we began participating in a pilot compost program at the Beard House. For the first time in our foundation’s 30-year history, we have been separating compostable food scraps at Beard House dinners to keep them out of the landfill.
Now three months in, we feel good about the work we are doing, though it’s not without its challenges. We continue to deal with a variety of issues from contamination (the accidental inclusion of non-compostable material, which means we need to keep straws, beverage napkins, and other items out of the compost bin); to continued staff training; to addressing the operational considerations needed (space for another compost bin, integrating another compostable bin liner, handling the weight of compost, transporting it from the basement to the curb); to being diligent about managing the potential odor issues of compost until pick-up time.
But thanks to the incredible team at the Beard House, led by our director of house operations and house events, Victoria Jordan Rodriguez, we have been diligent in our efforts during the pilot and managed to divert more than 5,500 pounds of food waste from the landfill in just three months. According to M&M, we’ve also achieved an extremely low contamination rate by industry standards, thanks to the rigorous work of our staff to keep our compost bins full of only compost.
As we move forward, we are excited to continue diverting this product from the landfill so it’s not unnecessarily contributing to greenhouse emissions. We’ll be tracking our progress and also working with the chefs who are being featured at the Beard House to refine even further the quantities and portions they offer to reduce the amount of post-consumer waste coming off the table uneaten.
Kris Moon is vice president of the James Beard Foundation. Find him on Twitter.