Posts filed under ‘Food Scraps’

LOCAL FOOD News Roundup

Local Food Advocates Named to Regional Economic Development Council

Two local food advocates were appointed to Gov. Cuomo’s New York City Regional Economic Development Council:  Marcel Van Ooyen, executive director of GrowNYC, the nonprofit behind the city’s thriving network of Greenmarkets; and Steve Hindy, president of the Brooklyn Brewery.

The New York City Regional Economic Development Council is one of 10 regional councils Gov. Cuomo launched last month to drive local economic development and improve the business climate statewide.  Each council will compete for state funding from a total pot of up to $1 billion in economic development aid. (more…)

August 9, 2011 at 2:25 pm Leave a comment

New Drop-Off Sites for Consumer Kitchen Scraps

The Union Square Greenmarket is New York City’s biggest and best-known site for eco-conscious residents to drop off kitchen scraps for composting.

Now they have more sites. On March 5, seven additional Greenmarkets began collecting food scraps from the public on a pilot basis through June 25. Find out where.

Continue Reading March 10, 2011 at 7:47 pm 1 comment

Community Garden Survey Zooms In on City Bounty

Phoenix Community Garden

© Photo by Margarida Correia. Phoenix Community Garden, a 19,000-square-foot garden in Brownsville, Brooklyn, was among the 223 gardens that participated in garden survey.

Gardeners, gardeners, how do your gardens grow?

Until recently little was known of New York City’s roughly 500 community gardens beyond the fact that the majority of them – 80 percent – grew food.

Now efforts are underway to find out what and how much is growing in city garden plots.  Last year, Farming Concrete, a project to quantify the bounty of city gardens, began releasing its initial findings.  And last month, two environmental organizations, GrowNYC and Green Thumb, released a report on a joint survey of 223 community gardens conducted from August 2009 to July 2010.

The 223 gardens surveyed represented 6,300 garden members, with an average of 29.2 members per garden.  More than four out of 10 gardens reported using more than 50 percent of their gardens for growing food.

The five top veggies were tomatoes, sweet peppers, beans, eggplants and cucumbers.  The sixth, surprisingly, were jalapeños.  Collards were the most popular leafy green, followed by lettuce and kale.

The majority of the gardens surveyed had fruit trees, with apple and peach trees being the most popular.  Cherry trees came in third.

The report found that about 65% of the gardens surveyed had a compost system.  Most allowed only members and neighborhood residents to participate in the compost pile.  Only 13% opened the compost system to the public (see related post here).

The report is a treasure trove of garden information, exploring how the food is used, the presence of greenhouses, chicken coops and other structures, and partnerships with local schools and community groups.

Check it out!

February 21, 2011 at 9:45 pm Leave a comment

A Return to — and on — the Earth

©Margarida Correia. Aurelia Kaelin oversees the collection of 2,100 to 3,600 pounds of kitchen scraps from eco-conscious New Yorkers. The site is located at the Union Square Greenmarket.

Rain or shine, Aurelia Kaelin never falls down on her  job at the Union Square Greenmarket:  setting up the city’s biggest and best-known site for eco-conscious New Yorkers to drop off kitchen scraps for composting.

Every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday, Kaelin dutifully hauls out large plastic bins and unfolds a table where she lays out sacks of potting soil made from city compost.

“I’m the ‘worm lady,’” she declares when asked for her title at the Lower East Side Ecology Center, which runs the popular composting program.  The unpretentious title she ascribes herself is, of course, a reference to the use of worms in the compost-making process.

Kaelin says people sometimes call her the “compost lady.” “They even call me,” she lowers her voice, “the trash lady.”

But Kaelin doesn’t seem to mind.  She’s doing something she believes in.

Kaelin oversees the daily collection of seven to 12 bins of kitchen scraps.  That’s about 2,100 to 3,600 pounds of food refuse that otherwise would have gone to landfills. The Manhattan-based compost program is part of the citywide NYC Compost Project created by the Department of Sanitation.

For New Yorkers unable to get to Union Square, there are several other places where they can drop off their food scraps. Many community gardens accept food waste from their members and in some instances, from the public.  Food waste donors – whether members of community gardens or not – are expected to empty their scraps into receptacles at the sites, as they would at the Union Square Greenmarket.  Each community garden is different, with some charging modest compost membership fees or requiring new food waste donors to take a brief training and orientation session.

In addition, two other Greenmarkets — one in Fort Greene and another in Sunnyside — have set up systems to take food scraps from the public.   And a few CSA sites are beginning to experiment with accepting food waste from their members.

Jodie Colon, a compost educator at the NYC Compost Project in the Bronx, encourages New Yorkers to build their own indoor or outdoor composting systems.  The NYC Compost Project runs composting workshops year-round in all boroughs.  (I attended one and blogged about it here.)

For New Yorkers without the time, space or inclination to make their own compost, diverting food scraps from New York City’s enormous trash load is likely to be the best they can do to fulfill their environmental civic duties.  For those New Yorkers, the following list might help.

In the Bronx:

The Bronx Green-Up group of the New York Botanical Garden connects residents with community gardens in the Bronx that accept food scraps for composting.  To link up with a community garden, e-mail

In Brooklyn:

  • For a modest membership fee, New Yorkers can use the Garden of Union in Park Slope (638 Union St.) to compost their food waste.  Members go through a half-hour training session and are given a key to the community garden.  Garden of Union members are expected to place their scraps in bins and cover them with sawdust, a simple procedure that takes no more than two minutes, says the garden’s overseer Claudia Johnson.  For more information, call 718-369-1139.
  • Another community garden in Park Slope, 6/15 Garden (6th Ave. and 15th St.), also has an active compost site where members are able to compost. Compost members are required to go through an orientation, volunteer 10 -12 hours a year, and pay a $15 annual fee for the privilege of having a key that gives them access to the garden year-round.  The garden is reassessing its policy regarding public composting.  For more information, send an e-mail to with compost in the subject line or call 718-768-0679.
  • Green Acres Community Garden in Bed-Stuy (Franklin Ave. and Greene St.) offers the public a $5 compost membership.  Members who help with the process of composting are entitled to take finished compost home.   Members are given keys to the garden, so they can drop off their waste in collection bins at any time.  For more information, call 718-623-2515.
  • Prospect Heights Community Farm (St. Marks Ave. between Vanderbilt and Underhill Aves.) accepts food waste from the public during the garden’s open hours:  Saturday 10:00 a.m.  – 1:00 p.m.; Sunday 2:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m.; Wednesday 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m.; and Friday 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.  People are required to place their food waste in bins, unless, says the farm’s keeper Jon Pope, “they’re dressed to go to a wedding.”  For more information, call 917-613-9472.
  • The Fort Greene Greenmarket in Fort Greene Park (Dekalb Ave. and Washington Park) takes food waste from the public on Saturdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 noon.  For more information, call 718-685-8460.

In Manhattan:

The Lower East Side Ecology Center Garden in the East Village (7th St. between Avenues B and C) accepts residential food waste on Sundays between 8 a.m. – 5 p.m.

In Queens:

Queens County Farm in Floral Park will accept food scraps at its farm stand open Wednesday through Sunday from 12:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. through October.

Two Coves Community Garden in Astoria takes food scraps from its members.  The garden is located at the intersection of 8th St., Amsterdam Blvd., and 30th Ave./Main St.  For more information, go to

Two CSAs in Queens — Astoria CSA and Harvest Astoria CSA — accept food scraps from its members, thanks to custom-built tumblers developed by the Western Queens Compost Initiative, an ad-hoc group associated with Two Coves Community Garden.

The Sunnyside Greenmarket recently started accepting food scraps from the public on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 12 noon.

In Staten Island:

There are no public drop-off sites for food scraps on Staten Island, according to Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, which runs the NYC Compost Project in Staten Island.

June 27, 2010 at 3:09 pm Leave a comment

Wild Man Builds Roots in Harlem

Joe Gonzalez tends the herbs in the backgard of his backyard of his Harlem apartment.

Joe Gonzalez tends the herbs in the backyard of his Harlem apartment.

Joe Gonzalez is the “wild man” on the block but not for reasons one might think.  The resident of Central Harlem grows what to budding local gardeners border on exotic: peas and carrots. 

Gonzalez’s neighbors are sticking to garden basics like tomatoes and maybe a few herbs.  After all, they’re just beginners in the world of urban backyard gardening.  

Gonzalez, vice president of the block association covering 118th Street between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Avenue — a brownstone-lined block voted the most active by Community Board 10 last year — may well have helped his neighbors discover their inner gardeners.  When he moved into the basement of his landlord’s brownstone almost five years ago, he quickly got to work on transforming the derelict backyard into a garden.  He earmarked a sliver of the 200-square-foot yard for herbs, growing lavender, peppermint, oregano, cilantro, rosemary, spearmint and basil. 

The herbs thrived.  Bushes of mint and lavender grew so large Gonzalez didn’t know what to do with them.  That’s when the “idea sprouted.” He’d give his excess herbs away.  Gonzalez posted a message on Google, on a group page created for people on the block, and almost immediately he had takers.   

Since then, Gonzalez has looked for ways to share his bounty.  He drops off spare spearmint at a café on the block — “for their sweet teas,” he says — and shares his excess herbs at the block association’s monthly meetings. 

Now his neighbors are thinking about growing and sharing their own food too.  Though no one has yet brought any garden-grown produce to the meetings, neighbors tell Gonzalez they’re working on it.  They even planned a neighborhood potluck dinner where everyone will bring dishes made with as many ingredients as possible from their own gardens.  The big potluck is scheduled for Sept. 19. 

The idea of swapping and sharing food is picking up in many parts of the country, as reported in this article in the New York Times. The article cites Web sites such as and that are providing forums for people to post garden-grown fruits and vegetables they’d like to swap, donate or sell.

Gonzalez’s garden bounty is too modest to post on such sites. The garden is limited by the size of the yard.  Still, he manages to grow tomatoes, carrots, peas, cucumbers and peppers – all on a narrow strip lining one side of the garden.  The center is a square patch of grass, hand-weeded and mowed with old-style hand mower. 

“This to me is my country house,” said Gonzalez, noting that Times Square is only a 15-minute subway ride away. 

The country environment took time to build.  When he moved in, the backyard was overgrown jungle strewn with debris and surrounded by dilapidated brownstones with chain-link fences.

Gonzalez reclaimed the yard, using scrap lumber, bricks and other materials from the crumbling townhouses to build a deck, shelves for garden tools, planter boxes, and a garden bench.  

Everything he’s done — from building a garden to giving away excess food — stems from his heightened “consciousness about waste,” he says.  Why, he thought, let those 100-year-old floorboards go to waste?  What about all those herbs? 

It’s that kind of thinking that makes Gonzalez the undisputed “wild man” on one of Manhattan’s most active city blocks.

Gonzalez’s consulting business,, provides homeowners and commercial property owners with eco-friendly construction solutions. He specializes in the renovation of brownstones.  For more about his business, go to

July 1, 2009 at 2:03 pm 3 comments

Three Hundred Elephants

Have any idea how much food New Yorkers throw out on an average day?  It’s about 2,000 tons, equal to the weight of more than 300 elephants, according to this eight-minute film co-written, produced, shot and edited by Alison Bryne in 2006.

TrashIn’ the Big Apple quickly frames the environmental issue – the 300 elephants’ worth of daily food waste piles up in landfills, where it sits unable to decompose. The solution?  Composting.  The film features restaurant owners who contribute their kitchen scraps to local gardens for composting and city officials and others who run large composting facilities.  It even provides a quick demonstration of indoor composting, showing the wiggler worms and bins I blogged about here. 

Food waste is not the world’s most exciting topic, but the filmmaker manages to make the unpalatable palatable through animation, fun music and lively narration.  More importantly, she shines a light on an environmental issue that we can all help rectify.  It’s definitely worth the watch.  Here’s the link to the film:

April 10, 2009 at 2:46 am Leave a comment

Wasted Potential

In my post, Shooting for the Stars, I mentioned that roughly 1 million tons of the city’s annual waste stream consists of food scraps and other organic material that could be composted.  OK, but how much of that, I wondered, was actually composted?  I didn’t have the answer then, but I do now.  According to the New York City Department of Sanitation, the city composts between 15,000 and 30,000 tons per year of organics via leaf, Christmas tree, and spring yard waste collections.  It produces about 30,000 cubic yards of compost annually. 

So, let’s take a step back.  New York City composts about 1.5% to 3% of what it could be composting.  I think New Yorkers can do much better than that.  Why not shoot for getting the composting rate to match the city’s recycling rate of 16.5%.  New Yorkers can do it.  Why not give it a shot?

July 23, 2008 at 10:45 pm Leave a comment

Shooting for the Stars

Recycling is probably the most obvious way to reduce the waste going to landfills and incinerators.  But as environmentalists and food activists know, we can further reduce waste in another, though less obvious, way: through food composting.

In New York – a city that collects roughly 11,000 tons of garbage a day – the impact of composting could be enormous.  The New York Department of Sanitation estimates that 26 percent of its waste stream consists of food scraps and other organic material that could be composted.  That’s 2,860 tons of “garbage” a day that could be prevented from going to landfills, or roughly 1 million tons annually. 

I’ve been trying to find out how much of the 1 million tons of organic material is composted citywide, but so far that number has been hard to come by. 

I did find out, though, how much we’re recycling.  Want to venture a guess? In 2007, New Yorkers recycled 16.5 percent of their trash, according to the Department of Sanitation.  That’s not particularly good, especially given the superstar performance of Hamburg, Germany, Europe’s trash recycling champion.  According to a New York Times article, Hamburg today recycles 800,000 tons of the 1.4 million tons of trash it generates, or 57 percent. Not bad.  Not bad at all.

I thank environmental stars like Hamburg.  They give those left in their wake something to shoot for.   

June 26, 2008 at 10:52 pm 4 comments

Grease Power

Soon after my post about grease thieves, a man affected by the banditry wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times.  Greg Melville, the driver of a grease-powered 1985 Mercedes station wagon, procures his grease on the up and up from a restaurant in this neighborhood.  “Waste oil banditry,” he writes tongue-in-cheek, “makes my own fuel search more difficult.”

Mr. Melville converted his car to “free fuel” a few years ago when gas was around $2.20 a gallon.  For $2,000, he had a 15-gallon tank installed in the back of his wagon that heats the grease he picks up weekly in five-gallon containers.  The wagon, which gets 20 miles per gallon, made it cross country from Vermont to California in six days. 

For all the promise grease holds, Mr. Melville notes that there isn’t enough of it—no matter the number of bandits—to power every car in the country. 

The piece is a definite must read, and a fun read at that. I highly recommend it.

June 16, 2008 at 11:36 pm Leave a comment

Freegans and Grease Thieves

As I mentioned in my last post, some adventurous New Yorkers are starting composting bins in their apartments.  They’re putting them in closets, under sinks and tables, in bathrooms, even living rooms.   

Since I don’t see myself ever setting up a composting bin in my apartment, I started doing the next best thing:  I’ve been dropping off my food scraps at a collection site.  All my food refuse – from eggshells and tea bags to orange peels and stalks of kale – now go into a plastic bag I keep in the freezer. At the end of the week, I drop it off at the farmers market, where it then goes to a composting facility at the Lower East Side Ecology Center in Manhattan.    

However much I drop off – it’s at least two pounds – it’s that much waste that I’m keeping from the landfill and redirecting into something useful.  The Lower East Side Ecology Center collects about 60 tons of organic material a year and produces about 15 tons of compost.  The “paydirt”—as the Center calls it – is used to beautify parks and community gardens. 

A no brainer, wouldn’t you say? It’s much better to have 15 tons of compost to enrich gardens than to have 60 tons of festering food trash.  With all of America’s food waste, the environmental impact of more composting could be significant. In 1995, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that consumers, restaurants, and supermarkets and other food retailers lost about 27% of the country’s edible food supply, a whopping 96 billion pounds of food.  Most of the food loss – 26 percent – occurred in people’s homes and in restaurants and other food establishments.    

No one understands this better than freegans, a group that attempts to live off the things others throw into the trash.  They go through the nation’s dumpsters in search of still edible food — unsold produce and bread at the supermarket for example — and other things, like clothes, furniture and electronics.  The “dumpster divers” do so for environmental and economic reasons, not because they need to.  Freegans avoid buying anything so as not to support what they see as an evil, rotten-to-the-core capitalist economic system. “As freegans,” they write on their Web site, “we forage instead of buying to avoid being wasteful consumers.”  They also seek to reduce the waste going to landfills and incinerators, which they note “are disproportionately situated within poor, non-white neighborhoods, where they cause elevated levels of cancer and asthma.”

They’re a passionate bunch for sure.  I’m not ready to sort through the trash bins of say the Garden of Eden, a high-end grocery store in Manhattan described in the freegan dumpster directory as “one of the best diving sites in the city”, but I do understand the freegan line of thinking and the point they’re trying to make. 

Others are cashing in – literally – on America’s food waste.  Ever hear of a “grease thief,” the latest arrival on the crime scene?  These individuals slip into the backs of fast-food chains and other eating establishments to “steal” fryer grease, a suddenly valuable commodity sought by people wishing to convert it into biofuel. As Susan Saulny explains in a recent New York Time article, grease is traded on the commodities markets, and it’s fetching in the ballpark of 33 cents a pound. 

Neither money nor noble principles would persuade me to “dumpster dive” for food scraps or hunt for grease.  But I am willing to take responsibility for my own food waste. I’ll continue dropping off my frozen scraps at the farmers market, where I go weekly anyway.  I’ll do my part, while freegans and grease thieves do theirs. 

June 12, 2008 at 1:49 am 4 comments

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