Pictured Above: Families who participated in the Southold food waste pilot project in February of this year (prior to Covid). | Tom Thirlby photo

Just before the pandemic uprooted our world, a group of 30 Southold households got together this past February to turn their food waste into black gold.

It’s an ambitious project for the climate change advocacy group Drawdown East End, which partnered with Southold Town and Trieber Farms in Peconic to turn 1,000 pounds of food waste into compost over the course of a month.

Participants, who all usually brought their garbage to the Cutchogue transfer station in Southold Town’s yellow garbage bags, were given a special compost bucket to separate out their food waste from their trash, which they were able to empty at the transfer station. The food waste was later composted at Trieber Farm.

Sherry Thirlby of Southold is organizing the effort, along with Mark Haubner of Aquebogue and Mary C.F. Morgan of Orient. 

Phase Two of the project began this fall with a series of two webinars on how to avoid wasting food.

Drawdown East End volunteers did the math to extrapolate the amount of food waste that could be collected if all 23,000 Southold residents recycled their food waste, which could be as much as one million pounds per month.

 “That’s two million pounds of methane that could be kept from the atmosphere,” said Mr. Haubner at the webinar.

The “Drawdown” concept is based on a book of the same name by climate change activist Paul Hawken that outlines 100 solutions that individuals and communities can implement to reduce their impact on climate change. 

Ms. Thirlby said the East End group chose reducing food waste as a priority goal because it is one of the most impactful solutions and it is one that can easily be implemented by East End residents.

“Americans waste an average of a half a pound of food per person per day, which accounts for one pound of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Ms. Thirlby. “Seventy percent of all food waste is from households, more than restaurants and grocery stores combined. Every year, only 55 percent of food in the United States gets eaten. We can change this.”

Ms. Thirlby said the average family of four loses $1,500 per year on food they buy and throw away, which accounts for $218 billion lost annually. Food production also accounts for 80 percent of the water used in this country, she added.

By reducing our food waste by 50 percent, she added, we can meet the Drawdown food waste goal.

The webinar focused on eight smart tips, including “shopping your fridge” before going to the grocery store; planning out menus for the week ahead using ingredients you have on-hand; planning out shopping trips ahead of time; storing your food correctly to keep it fresh; using all of the food you cook; picking your meal wisely when eating out; and, after all those steps are through, composting what’s left.

Ms. Morgan, a pioneer in the Slow Food Movement on the East End, suggested beginning shopping trips at local farm stands, where you can see what is fresh and in season and build your meals around those ingredients. That has the added benefit, she said, of keeping money in the local community — $73 of every $100 spent locally usually stays in the local economy.

When storing food in the refrigerator, said the webinar organizers, fruits must be stored without moisture, while vegetables need moisture. Cheese also keeps well when stored in parchment or wax paper, and reduced fat milk can be frozen (but whole milk cannot).

North Fork Suffolk County Legislator Al Krupski, of Krupski Farms in Peconic, participated in the webinar. He said that one challenge he’s noticed on the farm is that fewer and fewer people are cooking.

“We need to get more people to invest the time in cooking,” he said. “If you’re cooking, you’ll notice you’re getting better nutrition and a better meal — that’s why it’s a good thing when something is called homemade.”

“A lot of people take our abundance of food today for granted,” he added. “Food security in our country is critical. If we make sure we have food security in our own homes, it will spread throughout the country.”

Participants shared their own tips, including a woman named Taylor who liked “spinning leftovers into gold,” using the contents of her fridge to make exciting quiches and “weird, interesting pizzas.”

Another woman named Ellen wondered what should be done with meat scraps and bones — the organizers recommended using them to create a broth. The bones can also be buried but they must be buried at least a foot below ground.

A woman named Margaret, who lives alone, said she has a friend who is a wonderful cook who always gives her delicious leftovers, making it easier for her to enjoy home-cooked meals without having to put in the effort just for herself.

“Single people or even families making meals and sharing them with each other is a great idea!” said Ms. Thirlby.

Participants in the webinar, which is available on Drawdown Southold Pilot’s YouTube channel, are invited back to a 10-day pilot project in January, at which they will be asked to keep track of the food waste they generate each day to see if it has declined to less than a half pound per day after participating in the webinar.

A slew of useful tip sheets are also available in the group’s Dropbox.              — BY

Beth Young
Beth Young is an award-winning local journalist who has been covering the East End since the 1990s. She began her career at the Sag Harbor Express and, after receiving her Masters from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, has reported for the Southampton Press, the East Hampton Press and the Times/Review Media Group. She founded the East End Beacon website in 2013, and a print edition in 2017. Beth was born and raised on the North Fork. In her spare time, she tinkers with bicycles, tries not to drown in the Peconic Bay and hopes to grow the perfect tomato. You can send her a message at editor@eastendbeacon.com

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