Farmer Jennifer Pahl gives food scraps collected from a farmers market to her pigs and chickens.
Some Baltimore residents are now heading to the downtown Farmers’ Market and Bazaar on Sundays with shopping bags, cash — and their trash — in tow.
Each week, a growing number of market visitors are donating their kitchen castoffs to farmers, who help turn it all back into food. Potato peels, carrot ends, bruised fruit and more are hauled from the market back to local farms and turned into nutrient-rich compost for crops or colorful slop for plumping up pigs and chickens — some of which are in turn sold by farmers’ market vendors.
The collection is part of the Food Matters Program launched this year by Baltimore’s Office of Sustainability in partnership with the Natural Resources Defense Council and funded by The Rockefeller Foundation. The program is aimed at reducing food waste in cities.
Baltimore officials like sustainability coordinator Anne Draddy are working toward the goal of cutting the city’s food waste in half by 2030.
The Department of Public Works completed a trash audit in January and found that about 25 percent of the city’s waste is food. Decaying food can be linked to climate change, resource depletion, habitat destruction and other environmental problems, according to the city’s report for reducing and recovering food waste.
“It’s a behavior change, that’s what we’re looking for,” Draddy said. “I think at the market we have early adopters who have been waiting for this to happen.”
Since launching the program in the spring, those who donate have reported significantly cutting or nearly eliminating their trash, said Ava Richardson, technical adviser to the “Food Matters” program. Officials plan to expand the food scraps collection to the 32nd Street Farmers Market in the Waverly neighborhood beginning in November.
“We’re able to revert back to these really smart ways of managing our natural resources and closing the loop on food waste,” Richardson said.
When the market closes around noon each Sunday, Baltimore County farmer Jen Pahl walks over the Office of Sustainability’s collection stand and picks up her share of food scraps to be fed to more than 30 of her pigs.
Some of the animals rush over to greet Pahl when they see her blue pickup truck coming down the gravel path toward their pen. They know it’s time to eat, she said.
Many people who participate in the food scraps collection tend to freeze their compost throughout the week to prevent smell and decay. In the hottest summer months, Pahl’s pigs enjoy laying on top of the cool scraps while noshing on whatever is in snout’s reach, she said.
Pahl likes the way the scraps program allows city residents to participate in raising their own food, she said.
“Not everyone can grow pigs in their backyard," Pahl said.
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So far, the program has collected more then 10,000 pounds of food waste. Some of the compost materials have come from Amanda Dame, who lives in Mount Vernon, where she and her boyfriend pack their fruit and veggie scraps in old yogurt containers to be dropped at the market on Sundays.
Lately, Dame says she’s been taking out the garbage less frequently and eating less meat, which typically can’t be composted as easily as fruits and vegetables.
The 25-year-old was motivated to start donating her unused food in an effort to reduce her carbon footprint, she said. And the trash outside her building is just “really stinky."
Dame, who is a classically trained flutist, decided to take her food collection a step further by hosting a “compost concert” in August. About 20 attendees were encouraged to bring their compost to Dame’s chamber music concert at the Light Street branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library.
“The whole idea of this compost concert was to bring the community together to get things done faster,” she said. “I don’t have a way of talking to my neighbors other than annoying them by knocking on their door. This was a good way to get people downtown or at least throwing away less garbage.”