Something that is increasingly on the mind of businesses these days is the idea of sustainability: responsibly using resources in the present time in order to allow future generations to do the same. Within the overarching goal of sustainable practice include the measures of minimizing environmental impact, minimizing carbon footprints, and minimizing overall waste.
Reducing waste, however, is not just a philanthropic concept; in the arena of business, food waste can cost plenty. Estimates from studies put annual food waste costs at a heaping $160 billion.
How is that food wasted, though? Our plant food usually goes through a myriad of steps during its supply chain journey, cycling through the growing, harvesting, packaging, shipping, and retailing phases before hitting our dinner plates. The longer the duration of that journey, of course, the more potential is created for waste. Plants might be culled out due to disease or wasting to the elements; sometimes they are rejected for minute imperfections to appeal to high aesthetic standards. But an even more unsettling reality is that large farms often need to plant far more crops than they intend to use in case of unpredicted diseases or other misfortune befalling them, making massive food waste a regular and intentional component of commercial agriculture.
Keep in mind, also, that in the process we’re not just wasting food or even just wasting money: we’re also wasting water, fertilizer, resources, and energy. By some estimates, 21 percent of the freshwater we use for growing is used up on produce that never gets eaten. When you consider that some crops have a huge “water footprint” (for example, lettuce consumes more than 200 liters per kilogram), it becomes clear that even a seemingly small amount of wasted produce adds up to a huge waste of other resources.
What can we do to change that? While we as consumers can do our part by changing our aesthetic standards for produce and certainly by more wisely using the produce we get from the grocery store, changing the wasteful practices of large companies is mostly out of our reach. How could urban agricultural practices change that?
The first and most basic way is this: urban agriculture cuts out the lengthy steps and abridges this entire process. Instead of farm-to- freight truck-to- grocery store-to- table, urban farms allow for our food travel in a straight trajectory from the greenhouse to the local farmer’s market and right into our yummy homemade salads. Plus, when we have the luxury of urban greenhouses in our own backyards, there’s no reason to worry about quadrupling the crop of spinach to protect against misfortune; in practically no time, that spinach will be procured and enjoyed by a nearby customer. When the chance for waste is cut down and we remove the need for surplus planting, we reach our intended goal: prices eventually drop.
Another great thing: when it’s time to reap the benefits of urban agriculture, the first to get a taste of those benefits are local businesses. Local businesses are the backbone of local economies and major influences within our communities, and when those businesses thrive we experience something cool called local economy cash flow: the money we spend is circulated through the businesses around us instead of sourced out to external companies, which ultimately leads to more money for infrastructure, local programs, and other things we want for our communities.
One of the success stories that can be found within the Las Vegas valley is housed in a neat Downtown coffee venue. Vesta Coffee Roasters has procured produce from Urban Seed for about a month and features their urban greens in their Berry Good and Urban Miso salads. The company’s founder and owner, Jerad Howard, places a lot of value in sustainability and desires to reflect that in company practices. A fan of fennel, which is a feature in the Berry Good recipe, Jerad is passionate about reflecting an attitude of social and environmental care and responsibility through the company. Their game plan, essentially, is to “lead by example in practicing sustainable food, sustainable culture, and sustainable business practice”, he explains. One great feature at Vesta that allows for less food waste is their small, simple, delicious menu that varies seasonally. Having a smaller selection of recipes means having fewer ingredients laying around with little purpose, Jerad explains, and consequently less food waste.
By taking their sustainable practice to the next level and partnering with Urban Seed, Vesta has also reaped the benefits of superior-quality greens that customers rave about. The future of urban farming, Jerad states, could potentially allow for “a much greater selection of fresh and healthful foods” that are enjoyed at a low cost and with minimal waste. But in the end, sustainability to Jerad is about much more than food and coffee: it’s all about treating individuals with equity and respect. At Vesta, employee treatment is a huge value as well as the use of fair-trade coffee, which ensures that coffee farmers and distributors are paid fair wages for their time and labor. Best of all, the coffee shop is a consistently friendly and inviting abode within the community it resides, and certainly inspires clients with its organic and sustainable reputation.
In the end, it makes sense to ditch the spiderweb supply chain of conventional agriculture in exchange for a farm-to- table and farm-to- restaurant system of urban agriculture. We end up with happier businesses, happier communities, and ultimately happier individuals.
1. Buzby, & Hyman. (2012). Total and per capita value of food loss in the United States. Food Policy, 37(5), 561-570.
2. Mekonnen, M.M. and Hoekstra, A.Y. (2011) The green, blue and grey water footprint of crops and derived crop products, Hydrology and Earth System Sciences, 15(5): 1577-1600.
3. USDA Economic Research Service. (2017, October). Food Security in the U.S.: Key Statistics and Graphs. Retrieved from https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food- security-in- the-us/key- statistics-graphics.aspx
4. Vared, S., & Fowler, E. (2016). A Roadmap to Reduce U.S. Food Waste by 20 Percent. (p. 13, Publication). Rethink Food Waste Through Economics and Data.