Wasted food: better business using cows, plates and a digester

Daily Hampshire Gazette, November 19, 2017, by Bera Dunau

Feeding cows the grain waste from brewing beer, using expired food to generate power and serving students plated desserts. These are just some of the strategies local businesses and institutions have implemented to reduce the amount of food they throw away.

A symposium on food waste, and how economic players, big and small, are tackling it, attracted a healthy crowd at Mill 180 in Easthampton earlier this month.

The symposium, co-hosted by Associated Industries of Massachusetts, RecyclingWorks in Massachusetts, and the New England Economic Development Council, featured remarks from the hosts and MassDEP. John Fischer, of the state Department of Environmental Protection, outlined the state’s three-year-old ban on the disposal of commercial food waste, and how the law has served as a driver around food waste issues.

“It’s really about growing infrastructure in the state,” he said.

The proverbial meat of the event, however, came from the presentations from local businesses and institutions, which detailed both simple and creative ways in which they reduce and productively utilize food waste.

Garett DiStefano, director of residential dining and sustainability at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, said that reducing food waste is a key goal of the university’s dining program.

“Composting is good but it’s not the solution,” DiStefano said. “If you don’t waste it, you won’t need to compost it.”

DiStefano said that a key strategy in this is getting students to eat more of the food they put on their plates. One of the ways this is being accomplished is through plating desserts, in order to make it less likely that students would take food they wouldn’t consume, and by offering dishes like stir fry that students can customize to their preference. Another involved broadening the menu to include comfort foods from many of the diverse communities represented at the school, and providing food on schedules that match the life habits of students.

“You have to constantly mix it up, because if you don’t it’s boring to them,” DiStefano said.

UMass has also partnered with UMass parents to use their recipes in the dining commons, an effort that has produced a cookbook.

“That food has value to you,” said DiStefano. “You’re not going to throw it away.”

Another organization that handles a massive amount of food is Stop & Shop.

The supermarket’s representative Roger Beliveau presented a video on and described how the grocery chain has discovered a novel way to use food that can no longer be sold: Turn it into power.

At its Freetown distribution center, Stop & Shop has set up a massive anaerobic digester for food waste. Microbes in the digester break down inedible food and create gas, which Stop & Shop uses to generate electricity and power the facility.

Stop & Shop’s drivers who deliver fresh food to the chain’s stores are now loading up their semis with expired food and returning it to the center in Freetown.

He also described Stop & Shop’s commitment to donating food.

Peter Rosskothen, owner of the Log Cabin Restaurant, noted how not buying too much food, and being mindful of how it is being packaged, contributed to reducing waste.

“You try to be efficient … when you buy,” Rosskothen said.

He also brought up efficiency in his remarks in the symposium.

A smaller operation that gave its perspective on food waste was Brew Practitioners Brewery and Taproom, whose co-owner, Joe Eckerle, was fresh off quitting his day job at Pelican Products three weeks before.

“Damn, is it good to be dressed like this in front of you guys,” said Eckerle, clad in an uncollared shirt.

Eckerle said that each batch of beer that the brewpub makes leaves behind a significant quantity of grain.

“Every time I brew I have between 2 and 300 pounds of grain … that I have nothing to do with,” he said.

Instead of composting this grain, however, he gives it to Bob Vollinger.

“He takes the grain home and he feeds it to his cows,” said Eckerle.

“They go crazy over it,” said Vollinger.

Vollinger’s family has worked their land in Florence for three generations.

Following the presentations there was a question-and-answer session, followed by a cocktail hour.

Bera Dunau can be reached at