Did you know that the average restaurant meal produces one and a half pounds of food waste? Much of it – think potato peels, broccoli stems, eggshells, or food the restaurant ordered but never got to send to a table – is pre-consumer waste, and some of it – like that last quarter sandwich you couldn’t finish – is post-consumer.
Until a little restaurant-to-farm composting nonprofit called Project Green Fork (PGF) was piloted in 2008, all that food waste from Memphis restaurants was going straight into landfills. That’s a whole lot of space taken up in landfills, a whole lot of methane dumped into the atmosphere (food produces methane, a greenhouse gas, as it rots), and a whole lot of potential fresh new soil going down the tubes. Imagine Memphis-area farmers paying for fertilizer and soil, when they could have been getting it for free all that time!
clean green Memphis pride
Audra Farmer, who’s had a foot in the restaurant biz since she was 19, was a bartender at a restaurant called Tsunami when it became the pilot PGF location in 2008, so she got to see her colleagues in the kitchen switch from one bin – just trash – to three: trash, recycling, and organic food scraps. It wasn’t as difficult a switch as you might have thought, and the results made her proud of PGF, of Tsunami, and of Memphis.
“It was an organization I was interested in, and proud to have here in Memphis, since we don’t have commercial recycling in the city of Memphis. We’re pretty far behind, honestly. It’s small organizations and nonprofits that make up the difference, so I’m proud to be a part of that.”
Today, PGF is at 57 certified restaurants and counting. Just recently, they added three new ones. PGF restaurants collect all of pre-consumer food waste in a special bin, as well as recycle bottles and cans , conduct energy audits, cut out Styrofoam, and take good, non-toxic care of their land, to prevent pollutants from going into the Memphis stormwater drain network.
“It’s a massive amount of waste associated with dining out,” explains Farmer. “But it doesn’t have to be. PGF has a big following. We have diners that only dine at PGF-certified restaurants, because they stand up for what we’re doing.” As for Farmer, she’s become more and more invested in PGF over the years, too. These days, she works as PGF Project Manager, and also goes into local school systems as an environmental educator for PGF’s parent organization, Clean Memphis.
when you just need a bigger boat
This all sounds pretty great, right? So what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that PGF grew almost too fast for its own good! “We wound up with all this compost,” explains Farmer, “and we kind of overwhelmed the local farm that we were delivering to. It was almost to the point that we didn’t know what to do. We were almost panicking. We didn’t want to ask the restaurants to stop. If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant, you know once you tell your staff ‘you don’t have to do this anymore,’ it’s gonna be pretty hard to get them to go back to doing it.”
Girls Inc., whose farm outside the city highlights the work of girls and women in agriculture, stepped up to the plate, and within a week had started taking all of PGF’s compost. Get Green Recycleworks also opted in; they pick up the compost, as well as plastic and metal recyclables from all PGF restaurants. “Those two organizations are our champions right now,” says Farmer, “along with our restaurants, who do these practices every day.”
The only remaining volume problem today is that PGF needs a bigger dump trailer to transport all that precious compost. They’re raising money right now via ioby to pay for a new dump trailer to hook up to their truck. “We just need a bigger boat,” says Farmer. “We outgrew our tiny little trailer that could, so this is going to make it easier, more manageable, more efficient to get food waste to the farm. Right now we have to do three to four dumps per day, and we’re growing every day.”
what you can do
- Visit a PGF restaurant.
- Attend Living Local festival on June 8
- Donate towards the new dump trailer, by donating to their ioby campaign.
Feeling inspired? Want to take action in YOUR neighborhood? If you have awesome ideas about how to make your town greener, safer, and more fun, let us help! Tell us your awesome idea right here. We’d love to help you get started today.
Pssst…. In OTHER ioby news: Have a great idea, but feel like you need a blueprint to get you started? Or a recipe to follow? NO PROBLEMO! We’ve got you covered. Check out some of our very best recipes for change, here.