Danielle Blair: Why not wasting food is important

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FARMINGTON — Danielle Blair is careful to only buy what she needs when she’s grocery shopping.

Part of that practice is the result of “being a thrifty college student,” the 22-year-old and recent University of Maine at Farmington graduate said.

But her interest runs deeper than being frugal.

She’s passionate about preventing food insecurity, seeing too many people who don’t have enough to eat. She’s also passionate about preventing food waste, which is bad for the economy and the environment.

She’s been an AmeriCorps member for a year, working with the United Way and food banks, and finding ways for Franklin County organizations, stores and farms to reduce food waste and food insecurity.

The goal is to direct surplus food to people in need, then farm animals and then composting.

Households waste more food than stores and restaurants. A full 20 percent of food people put in their grocery cart is never eaten, according to the Natural Resources Defense Council. On average, a family of four throws out $1,500 worth of food each year.

“In the United States almost 50 percent of food we produce is going to waste. It’s sitting around not being eaten,” Blair said. Some of it goes into landfills.

“That’s a lot of manpower wasted to make the food,” she said. “It’s a strain on our environment. Meanwhile we have people who are hungry.”

If 50 percent of the food produced in the United States was used instead of thrown out, it would go a long way to feed the poor, Blair points out.

As an AmeriCorps member working with the United Way and 16 food pantries in Franklin County, Blair said there are a number of ways food waste has been reduced.

For instance, the Care and Share Food Closet in Farmington has sent hundreds of pounds of inedible food to a farmer for his pigs. A single volunteer has taken spoiled produce home for his compost pile.

In the next few weeks, Care and Share will begin adding inedible food to UMF’s compost pile.

She and others help food pantries coordinate to share food. Because different pantries are open on different days and at different times, one might have fresh strawberries that need to be eaten before going bad. If that food pantry is closing for several days, they’ll give fresh strawberries to another pantry that will be open.

Blair is also a member of the Franklin County Food Council, which is hosting the second Annual Greater Franklin Food Summit starting 3:30 p.m. May 2 at the Farmington Grange in West Farmington.

There will be a keynote presentation and conversations about the local food system, food insecurity, farmers and food producers, and a locally-sourced dinner.

And on May 4 at UMF, Blair will host a showing of the film “Just Eat It! A Food Waste Story,” beginning at 6:30 p.m. in Preble Hall. Anyone who wants to learn about food waste and food insecurity is invited.

While a student at UMF, Blair was a member of the Campus Residents Council, and supported the Thrifty Beaver, a campus food pantry and clothing exchange.

Because of student-led efforts, in recent years the university serves more locally produced food and works to reduce food waste. “Five years ago they weren’t giving food to local food pantries,” Blair said. “They weren’t locally sourcing. They’ve come a long way.”

Blair grew up in Phippsburg, near Popham Beach. Since she’s moved to Farmington she’s seen the students and community interested in helping the environment and people.

Taking the one-year position with AmeriCorps and working with United Way “is an awesome opportunity for me to do something to make a difference in this community,” she said.

“Farmington is a door-holding community,” Blair said, explaining there are many people struggling with food security in their daily lives, yet they think of others.

“They’ll hold the door open for you,” she said.

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NRCM: Wasted food ‘a real tragedy’

All that taken-for-granted or forgotten food in your refrigerator that’s thrown out isn’t just wasting your money, it’s bad for the environment, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

“When we waste food, we waste all of the resources used to make that food, and we contribute harmful greenhouse gas emissions to the atmosphere,” Sarah Lakeman, NRCM’s Sustainable Maine Project director, said.

The more than 40 percent of food produced in the United States that’s wasted creates “an unsustainable amount of waste,” she said. “It is a real tragedy for both our environment and our people.”

More than 48 million Americans — including 208,000 Mainers — don’t have enough food, she said. Through coordinated efforts, food waste is starting to gain attention. “People are coming up with solutions in their communities,” Lakeman said.

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