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Earth Notes
Science and Innovations

Earth Notes: Salvaging Food

USDA Agricultural Research Service

In September, 2013, when hail damaged 5,000 pounds of tomatoes at Linley Dixon's southwest Colorado farm, she acted quickly. Facing the loss of $10,000 worth of produce, she rallied, via e-mail, a troupe of volunteers to pick every hail-spanked fruit off the fine.

In the U.S., we waste an astronomical 40% of our food. 30% of what's harvested never arrives at the supermarket due to cosmetic blemishes. Or, food is purchased and forgotten in our fridges. Half of us don't take home restaurant leftovers.

This waste has costs not only in food, dollars and labor, but in fresh water, oil and land. Additionally, discarded food adds 33 million tons annually to landfills. They emit methane, the third leading cause of climate change.

Thankfully, pioneers are working to reverse these trends. In California, one farmer grew tired of discarding unsold produce and began advertising the leftovers on Facebook. The idea developed into a website called CropMobster, where farmers connect surplus crops with restaurants, hunger relief organizations, and other companies.

The Food Recovery Network, created to gather and distribute surplus food on college campuses, now has 28 chapters nationally. And fruit tree owners can offload their edible burden to willing pickers through many websites, such as

The problem isn't that good food isn't grown; it's a challenge of distribution.

Linley Dixon's rescued tomatoes made many quarts of salsa. The first batch sold out within hours at the Durango Farmers Market. With the right mindset, a loss can become a gain.