Giving old food new purpose: Routt County farmers partner to recycle organic waste
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — At least two Routt County farmers are partnering with a local grocery store to divert food waste and recycle it into their agricultural operations.
Mark Berkley, founder and owner of Innovative Regeneration Colorado in Steamboat Springs, started taking old produce from City Market in November. He estimates he picks up 2,000 pounds of expired food each week that otherwise would have been thrown away.
Berkley then passes it along to David Keating, who owns a pig farm north of Milner. Together, they have helped to model a more sustainable way of doing business.
Keating started his farm about three years ago, after buying a special breed of Alpine pigs from a local farmer. What grocery stores treated as waste he saw as a prime meal for his hogs.
“There’s a lot of good produce that goes in the trash just because it’s gotten a little bit older, a little bit dry,” Keating said.
He uses the produce to fortify the animals’ diets on top of the staples they eat on a regular basis.
“It gives my pigs better nutrient density than the wheat and alfalfa they normally get,” Keating explained.
Sustainability has been a priority for Berkley for years. He also owns Innovative Ag Colorado, which produces and sells microgreens, edible flowers and mushrooms. After seeing how much organic waste that operation produces, he wanted to find a better use for the material.
Since then, he has implemented new strategies to create compost. One of his more unique methods employs black soldier flies, known as one of the most efficient animals to convert food into biomass.
A 3-foot cubic container of black soldier fly larvae can consume 35 pounds of food waste each day, according to Berkley.
“They’re like piranhas,” he said.
After the flies have had a few days to digest their meals and grow, Berkley removes some of the larvae, which can be used as anything from bio-diesel to a high-protein, high-fat food source for pets or livestock. Humans can even eat the larvae, Berkley said. He has heard they have a nutty flavor but has not tried them himself.
For now, he is awaiting the proper permitting to grow his composting operation and sell the larvae. Berkley also plans to begin accepting organic waste from residents. He hopes to gain the proper permits to do so in the coming weeks.
The Yampa Valley Sustainability Council listed organic materials as one of the main sources of waste in Routt County in its waste diversion plan. According to data from the Sustainability Council, organic waste accounts for about 24% of the material that goes to the landfill. A local study, published this summer, found that county residents toss about 50,000 pounds of food in the garbage each week.
Routt County currently does not have a municipal system to recycle organic waste, but a special task force, of which Berkley is a member, is championing an effort to change that. Madison Muxworthy, waste diversion director at the Sustainability Council, said a pilot program is in the planning stages.
Other local companies have looked for their own ways to divert organic waste from the landfill. Butcherknife Brewing Company, for example, gives its spent grains to Saddleback Ranch to feed their livestock, according to Erin Orr, the brewery’s account manager.
People can support Berkley’s produce farm and Keating’s pig farm by purchasing their products at the Community Ag Alliance downtown. Some local restaurants also use Berkley’s produce. A full list is on his website.
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