Group aims to tackle Sonoma County food waste

The Sonoma County Food Recovery Coalition is creating a toolkit to get donated food to the needy.|

In Sonoma County, about 45,500 tons of food waste go into the landfill each year.

A group of local nonprofits is aiming to change that by diverting it instead into the hands and homes of the estimated 82,000 people who go hungry each month in Sonoma County.

Called the Sonoma County Food Recovery Coalition, the group is at work on a mapping tool to help the public reduce its food footprint. It will allow someone to punch in their ZIP code to find the nearest drop-off spot accepting whatever they’re trying to donate, whether prepared food, unsold farm stand produce or excess apples from a family’s backyard tree.

“That, for me, is like the 2.0 iteration of food recovery and food waste prevention,” said Suzi Grady, program director for Petaluma Bounty and a founding member of the coalition.

Many producers across the North Bay already have such relationships with emergency food providers, Grady said, like when Petaluma’s Della Fattoria has leftover bread, or San Rafael’s Wild West Ferments accidentally orders too much cabbage.

“So we’ll go pick that up and distribute it to an emergency food provider,” Grady said.

The newest effort is a way to simplify that process and make it easier for small producers - even private citizens - to connect to the food recovery movement, broadening the supply chain for emergency food providers across the North Bay. Private donations are covered by the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996, which excludes donor liability except in cases of gross negligence.

“It’s a way for (providers) to put themselves on this list, so their neighbors that have extra food will know where to take it,” Grady said. “We’re hoping this will play a matchmaking role.”

The project’s creation was made possible through a $5,000 grant from Impact 100 Redwood Circle, said Mimi Enright, a program manager at UC Cooperative Extension Sonoma and coalition member.

For more than a year, Enright has been studying food waste recovery opportunities in Sonoma County, digging into data from the Sonoma County Waste Management Agency that shows how much food, recyclables and compostables are going into the landfill annually instead of being diverted.

According to the agency’s 2014 waste characterization study, the answer is 173,250 tons, about one-quarter of it food.

The local effort is in line with a larger effort from the Environmental Protection Agency to reduce the nation’s food loss by half. The goal, announced in September 2015, aims to cut individuals’ annual food waste from an estimated 218 pounds per year to 109 pounds per year, according to national EPA figures.

“We’re really trying to bring home the sad dichotomy that in Sonoma County, we have a lot of people going hungry in this amazingly rich agricultural community, and yet we have a huge amount of food that’s ending up in our landfills,” Grady said. “So how can we create more awareness for those issues?”

You can reach Staff Writer Christi Warren at 707-521-5205 or

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