The Path Ahead: Reflections on 2018 and a look at 2019

As years end and new ones begin, we often find ourselves in a fairly reflective place. We’d like to take a moment to reflect on 2018 and share with you some of our plans for 2019.

As anyone who has started an organization themself will know, this journey comes with lots of highs, lots of lows, and very little in between. 2018 was no different for us. We had lots of success and learned from lots of failures. That’s just the way things go! We’d like to share some of our successes with you, and the things that we are a looking back on as a team with our heads held high as 2018 has come to a close!

By the numbers:

  • We now serve over 100 clients across Northeast Ohio

  • We are collecting and diverting over 32,000 pounds of food scraps each week from landfills as of December, 2018. This is an increase from 18,000 pounds per week just a year earlier.  

  • We launched our Community Supported Composting program and have over 80 active members!

  • We fully transitioned away from plastics and now only use compostable bags and liners.

  • Inside Baseball Disclosure: We successfully lobbied the Ohio EPA to adopt a rule change to support community composting efforts like ours. Each parcel in Ohio can now have up to 500 square feet of active compost at any one time, an increase of 200 square feet!

What these numbers don’t capture is the massive growth we’ve made internally as an organization. We’ve made huge strides in process improvement, operational sophistication, and communications. As a team, we read the book Traction, by Gino Wickman (highly recommended!) and have put together clear, measurable, and time-bound goals for all members of our team. These goals are rooted in core company values that are informed by our mission and vision as an organization. These efforts have made the growth we have experienced, and plan to experience in the future, possible in the first place. We now have a road map, process indicators, and are running more like a fine-tuned machine than ever before.

Photo from ILSR

Photo from ILSR

It’s because of this progress that we are so excited to share with you some of our goals for the new year. 2019 is going to make the progress we made in 2018 look like a snail’s pace. Here is some of what’s in store:

  • Residential Composting is coming to Cleveland in the Summer of 2019!

    • This subscription service will bring the services our business and organizational partners have enjoyed for years to residents.

      • If you haven’t yet completed out survey, please do so HERE!

    • We will have two subscription options: To-your-door weekly pick up and multiple community-based drop-off locations.

      • If you know of a great location for a drop point in your community, let us know!

      • Our existing Community Supported Composting membership payment option has also been upgraded to make joining the fight against food waste easier. Now, you can elect a monthly subscription option rather than the one-time annual payment option.

Garbage to Garden in Portland, Maine: Community Compost Drop Site!

Garbage to Garden in Portland, Maine: Community Compost Drop Site!

  • New Product Launch. We have spent the past year improving and refining our soil blends to better serve you. We are thrilled to be launching our new product line: ‘tilth’. Tilth will provide the home gardener, urban farmer, and houseplant enthusiast with the highest quality planting mediums available, each with a base of high-quality compost created from the food waste we collect and divert from landfills.

    • Our first products will include:

      • Potting Mix: Sprout

      • Compost: Grow

      • Mulch: Cover

    • More details coming soon!

      • Tell us where you get your soil blends: online, retail, home and garden stores? We want to put our products where you can access them! Let us know in the comments below!

  • We are planning to triple the number of businesses and organizations we serve so if your place of work wants to join the fight against food waste, reach out today!

  • We are going to formally become a B-Corp.

    • We got into this business to show that social enterprises can make a meaningful impact on a social ill and make some money while doing it. As we continue to grow we want to ensure that we can invest in the things that keep people and the planet central to our mission.

  • Carbon Neutrality Commitment.

    • We are committing ourselves to being at worst carbon neutral and at best, carbon negative by the end of 2019. This means all emissions we produce through daily operations will be offset or avoided in some way.

Like we said, there is a lot we have in store for you this year. We hope you will stick around and join us for the journey. We are so excited about what the future holds and hope you are too!

We would also like to thank each and every one of our clients, advisers, and families.

Here is to 2019!


Full Circle with: Brett Sawyer of The Plum

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As Clevelanders, we are lucky to have a dedicated group of professionals here that work hard to build and promote a better food system. The Plum is one local business that is doing just that, and Chef Brett Sawyer is the driving force behind the mission. He opened The Plum with partner Jonah Oryszak in 2016, and his dedication to supporting local farms and reducing food waste is nothing short of impressive.  

Here’s the lowdown on Brett’s journey: He spent some time in college, both at Ohio State and the University of Akron, often not attending class (we’ve all been there) and working at restaurants in various front-of-the-house positions. He eventually moved to France, where, not surprisingly, he became more interested in cooking. After returning home from France, Brett was contemplating a career as a chef. He moved back to Akron and worked as a bartender at Chrissie Hynde’s former restaurant VegiTerranean, but ultimately Brett had his eyes set on the kitchen. Then low and behold, one day a line cook job opened up and he took it. From that moment on Brett’s love for cooking was solidified.  

After working as a line cook at a few spots around Akron, Brett decided to move to Chicago, and it was there that he got into working with local farms. “It was very much the beginning of places like Chicago, New York, San Francisco getting into the locavore and sustainable movements. The first place I worked in Chicago was called Three Aces, and I was one of the opening line cooks. It was the first place I ever worked that we were using local farms for most of our meat, produce, cheeses and charcuterie. Everything was completely hand made in house, I mean everything. It was a very big deal for me because I had never seen anything like that.”

After three years in Chicago, Brett came back to Cleveland with a vision to eventually open his own place. He worked at the Greenhouse Tavern and Trentina while working on his concept and began building relationships with farmers in the region. “When I was working for [Jonathan] Sawyer, he was a big proponent of local farms and sustainability. Composting was a huge thing and that was really where I learned about it. So when we opened The Plum, we knew we were definitely gonna compost. I mean, why wouldn’t we?”

When we opened The Plum, we knew we were definitely gonna compost. I mean, why wouldn’t we? - Brett Sawyer

That last statement says it all. It’s a philosophy Brett is carrying over to a new concept he’s about to launch, but we’ll get to that in a minute. Brett takes this ethos to heart because it’s simply second nature to him, and it’s precisely why he chose to work with Rust Belt Riders. “They’re great people. Not only are we stoked to be working with them, but they do a great job of keeping up with everything, they’re always on top of it.”

Often we assume that restaurants prioritize sourcing from local farms and incorporating sustainable practices like composting and reducing food waste because it’s a good thing to do. While that’s absolutely true, it’s not the only reason. “We don’t de-stem herbs, the whole herb goes right into the dish. We use the leaves and tops of vegetables as much as we can by incorporating them into purees and mixing them into our salad greens. So the whole vegetable is a very important aspect, not just from a sustainability perspective, but from a cost perspective. If we’re paying by the pound for something, and we’re throwing away a half of it because it’s excess, then we’re literally throwing money into the trash. So it’s important to us to use as much of the vegetable as we possibly can.”

It’s important to us to use as much of the vegetable as we possibly can - Brett Sawyer

As consumers and food lovers that are concerned about climate change, many of us make it a priority to support businesses that build their operation on sustainable practices. It’s our way of voting with our dollars, and it’s a crucial piece of the puzzle. But in the grand scheme of things, supporting those businesses is just one step in the process. Ultimately if we want to make an impact, we have to learn from their example and implement those practices at home by making it a part of our daily lives. We’re lucky to have chefs like Brett who show us that reducing food waste and supporting local farms is totally possible, and most importantly, that it’s not hard.

Ok, enough preaching. Remember that new concept I mentioned…..Brett and the rest of the gang are set to open up a new spot in mid-January. The new Battery Park location is called Good Company and will be more of a modern, hip sports bar with a menu reflects the concept. Think burgers, fries, wings, potato skins, and all that but with plenty of vegan and vegetarian options too.

Good Company Interior

Good Company Interior

“We're using Certified Angus Beef for steaks and our burger grind. We actually went to Wooster and spent seven hours grinding in different cuts of meat to come up with a signature grind for our restaurant, so nobody else will have this burger. All that meat will come from Boliantz in Ashland. The vegetarian option will be a mushroom terrine that we'll slice into patties and we’ll have a vegan version of our burger too. We're also making chicken patties in house, and we're gonna do our own housemade vegan chickpea patties. So food wise it will be what you know of a sports bar, but we'll have a lot more options for vegetarians and vegans.”

While Good Company’s menu won’t be quite as seasonal as The Plum’s, Brett is still emphasizing locally sourced ingredients when possible and incorporating sustainability practices and composting into the operation. “It's what we believe in, creating as less of a carbon footprint as much as we possibly can. If we're still bringing in imported foods in the winter time and we're still getting vegetables and fruit from other states, to us we should at least be composting and lessening our carbon footprint if we can't order as much locally.”

Thanksgiving, Not Thanks Wasting

Thanksgiving is a holiday centered around food, mounds and mounds of food! Whether you are celebrating with family, loved ones, at home or in a restaurant you undoubtedly will be having your fill of some of your favorite fall foods.

This holiday, filled with its generally seasonal ingredients; root vegetables, gourdes, and brassicas connect us to a time and place at the dinner table. What we gain in seasonality we often lose in perspective. Thanksgiving, a holiday of harvest, abundance and more-often-than-not, gluttony can blind us to the sad state of affairs our food system is in.

This Thanksgiving one in six people across the United States face hunger and in Northeast Ohio 20% of children live in a food insecure household.   We may sound like a broken record but these facts remain at the same time that our nation is literally throwing away as much as 40% of all the food we grow. So what do we do in light of these circumstances?

For one, you can make an effort to support those organizations working to improve food security across our city. The Hunger Network of Greater Cleveland is a fantastic resources with a number of amazing programs that advance food security. One program we are particularly excited about is their forthcoming Food Rescue program which will capture perfectly edible food and direct it to their network of food pantries for those in need. Other organizations whose praise we cannot sing loudly enough are:

·         Catholic Charities Services of Cuyahoga County

·         The Center for Children and Families

·         City Fresh

·         Cleveland Food Not Bombs

·         Perfectly Imperfect

·         Stone Soup Cleveland

·         St. Luke’s Episcopal

·         West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church

Many of the organizations above, notably Cleveland Food Not Bombs, Perfectly Imperfect, Stone Soup, St. Luke’s and West Shore UUC in addition to their efforts of advancing food security are also taking their work a step further and diverting all their scraps from landfills by partnering with us through our collections services. These organizations are deeply committed to combating hunger in the here and now while simultaneously creating the conditions to fully eradicate it.

Today, however, I want to invite you to look into a specific resource in advance of your Thanksgiving meal. If you are anything like me or the family I grew up in, the day before Thanksgiving as well as the day-of Thanksgiving are some of the best days of the year. You cloister yourself in a kitchen, cook nostalgic foods with loved ones, and smell all the smells you haven’t smelled in almost a year. (Sidebar: why do we only eat turkey and stuffing around Thanksgiving? I feel that this needs to change urgently… its so good!) One inevitable outcome of this work is that all-too-often we overcook, we make way too much food for not nearly enough people, and before you tell me ‘but, Dan, the leftovers as the best part about Thanksgiving!’ I won’t argue that. Instead, I will point to some numbers. For all those leftovers we plan on eating, a lot of them end up in the back of our refrigerator uneaten and then pitched days later. An estimated $277 million worth of turkey, for example, ends up in the trash after Thanksgiving. All said, we will waste about 172 million pounds of turkey, 14 million pounds of dinner rolls, 29 million pounds of vegetables, 30 million pounds of gravy, 40 million pounds of mashed potatoes, 35 million pound of cranberry sauce and 38 million pounds of stuffing… on Thanksgiving alone!

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I say this not to shame you or make you feel bad. This problem is avoidable with the right planning which is why I want to introduce to you the Guestimator! This amazing tool developed by the team at Save The Food will help you in your quest for minimizing food waste at Thanksgiving, simply enter the number of small, average, and big eaters you expect to be feeding, the number of leftovers you want – because lets be honest, leftovers are almost even better than the Thanksgiving meal itself – if any, the kind of menu you plan to make – classic, veggie focused, or a mixed bag, and BOOM, it generates exactly how many servings you will need to satisfy your Thanksgiving needs!

 

So yeah, eat until your hearts content, enjoy your food, because you should, just don’t waste it. If you do have left overs, eat them, and if you can’t pop by our facility and have the composted.

Full Circle with: Dave Kocab of the Black Pig

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Sometimes you stumble upon your passion by accident. Such was the case for David Kocab, Head Chef at The Black Pig in Ohio City, who up until he started working in kitchens didn’t really have any idea what he wanted to do. “I just kind of haphazardly found myself in kitchens, and I liked it, it was really comfortable for me. I ended up just being naturally good at it when I hadn't really found anything like that in my life before.”

Once David made the decision that he wanted to pursue a career as a chef, culinary school seemed like the logical next step. About a month later he moved to Portland to do just that. “It was great cause I finally found schooling that I liked. I felt like that annoying 5th grade kid that's like "oh, I love school, I'm here to learn today", but I felt like that! Finally! It was really nice! I lived out there for three years. It was really cool because you see how integrated food and agriculture is into society, into the communities and everything. And up until I left Cleveland, there was no emphasis on supporting local agriculture. Maybe Karen [Small] was the only person doing it before I left.”

Eventually, Cleveland was calling out to David, and he was listening. He moved back in 2013 after a brief stint in LA, and started working with Karen Small at The Flying Fig, then The Greenhouse Tavern and a string of other places until he eventually landed his first job as Head Chef at Trentina. His time there really allowed him to hone in on his farm to table passion. “It’s a small restaurant with 35 seats and a tasting menu, so I was able to focus on quality over quantity. It was great, I got to work with whoever I wanted to work with locally. And it introduced me to so many more people locally that have an appreciation for that kind of thing.”

Over the years, educating people through food has become super important to David and he’s made it the cornerstone of his mission since he started as Head Chef at The Black Pig a little over a year ago. Those of us who are involved in food systems work recognize the need to create engaging conversations with consumers to help them understand the intricacies the food system and how it affects them. That is particularly true when it comes to food waste, which could possibly be the least understood part of the food system and is also an integral part of David’s mission.

“Locally food waste is not talked about enough. I think it's talked about nationally but I think it's talked about in a way that is not receptive for people to care. Cause it's always shaming us, and people do not respond well to that. It’s great to have a partner like Rust Belt Riders because they're bringing up a topic of conversation and changing a social norm essentially. They influence it to the point where we're all thinking about food waste now, whether it's actively thinking about it or subconsciously thinking about it. It's got to start somewhere.”

While the farm to table movement has made a lot of progress over the last several years, we still have a long way to go. Creating an atmosphere that is built on responsible sourcing and solid sustainability practices is no easy feat, and it requires real dedication. “As a chef you know that you could put lobster mac or a caprese salad on the menu in February and it'll sell out. But even though this is a business, it's not all about that. I like the path that I've chosen, the people I've chosen to put myself around. We don't play that way because we don't have to. We're a small independent restaurant, we have certain ethos and beliefs and we can push those out there because we know enough people will support us. After seeing how food can affect a society and a community, as I did in Portland, I feel like there's a lot of societal correlations that can be applied here. For me, I'm always trying to make Cleveland better. And right now, a huge way to make Cleveland better is to strengthen the community.”