Tara Firma Farms Gleaning Program
When we started the farm we wanted to address many of the complications with the nation’s food system. But tackling its over sized food waste problem wasn’t one of them. However, we’re happy to say that’s become an unintended consequence.
Tara Firma Farms' gleaning program is a two-year old program that focuses on bringing our animals free organic human food destined to be thrown out from grocery stores, bakers, fisheries, cheese makers, breweries and other local food sources. At this point we’re getting nearly 5000 pounds a week. Of course our gleaning program isn’t making much of a dent in the annual 133 billion pounds of food produced that goes uneaten (according to a February 2014 USDA food waste study) but it sure feels good keeping some quality foods out of the landfill and turning them into nutrients for our animals.
We’re not picking up garbage. We have accounts with the managers of the stores and producers. They have the food packaged and prepped and they load it onto our truck with forklifts--all above board. Ninety percent of the food we pick up is safe for human consumption--not moldy or having gone bad. But even if it weren’t good for human consumption, the bacterial environment in animals guts is a bit different than in humans. Pigs and chickens regularly eat things way further biodegraded than a human would consider...and it’s good for them! Both animals have such keen senses of smell they know when something isn’t good for them to eat. What would be questionable to us is a banquet to them.
This food provides essential, healthy nutrients for the animals. The higher nutrient content of the food keeps disease down which means we don't have sick animals and no loss means lower prices. It even benefits the local economy. Before gleaning, we would get organic feed from the local feed place and while that was supporting a local retailer, the feed was not locally grown. Now, almost all the organic stuff we are gleaning is food from local growers. These businesses normally would pay to dispose of these products and we have contracted to pick it up for free.
One final benefit is we know the meat tastes even better. One summer we were feeding the pigs lots of organic blackberries and during the next pork harvest you could taste notes of the blackberry in the background! Subtle--like a fine wine.