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Earth Notes: Food Waste Program

Yavapai County Food Recovery Program

The linked problems of food waste and food insecurity are common in the U.S. In northern Arizona’s Yavapai County, public health experts estimate some 80,000 people are food insecure, including one in three children and one in six seniors. They can’t always count on regular or nutritious meals.

Yet food is abundant. Up to 40% of the food that’s grown or prepared for use in the U.S. is never eaten. That means the energy used in growing and cooking it is also wasted. And in landfills, the discards produce climate-altering methane gas.

This problem is what Yavapai County’s Food Recovery Program aims to solve. It involves a group of Cornucopia Community Advocates, and links available food with hungry people in need.

Surplus food can take the form of unpurchased bagels or pastries from cafes, fully catered hot meals from resorts, or a bounty of ripe fruit from someone’s backyard peach tree.

The Food Recovery Program connects these suppliers with facilities that need food, like retirement homes, food pantries and homeless shelters. Prepared foods are delivered to those locations, and volunteers join together to pick fruit. The program even maintains a “library” of harvesting tools that can be borrowed.

The donated food is carefully vetted for safety. Vegetables that aren’t suitable for human consumption are provided to farm animals. If the produce is too far gone even for that, it’s taken to a composting operation.

Over the last two years, the program has delivered some 300,000 meals and diverted an average of 10 tons of food a month from regional landfills. More information about Yavapai County’s Food Recovery Program is at 

Peter Friederici is a writer whose articles, essays, and books focus primarily on connections between humans and their natural surroundings. His most recent book is Beyond Climate Breakdown: Envisioning New Stories of Radical Hope (MIT Press, 2022). He also teaches classes in science communication and sustainable communities at Northern Arizona University.

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