Pigs to the Rescue

Sending food scraps to farm diverts waste in lieu of composting program.

By 
Lindsey Ramsey, Contributing Editor

Western Michigan University partnered with nearby
Bear-Foot Farms to send food scraps to feed the
farm's pigs.

KALAMAZOO, Mich.—When the dining department at Western Michigan University was looking at ways to be more environmentally sound regarding food waste, the department’s first choice was a composting program, according to Judy Gipper, dining services director. However, with no facility nearby to handle compost for the university, the department decided to look into a different way of discarding food scraps: Feeding them to pigs. This Food Diversion Initiative (FDI) has diverted more than 39,000 pounds of waste since it began in the fall of 2012.

“We collaborated with Bear-Foot Farms, which is a well-established farm located about 25 miles from campus,” Gipper says. “We purchased and labeled all of the bins used for gathering and transporting the food waste. The farmers pick up the food waste three times per week. The farmers report that their pigs love eating the vegetable and fruit scraps. [The pigs] have learned when the truck comes with the food, and the farmers say they start running toward the truck and snorting with excitement.”

Gipper says all staff were trained to know what goes in which bin and items to look out for, like peach pits, that aren’t good for the animals. The initiative started at just one dining hall. At the end of the semester the department had collected 14,740 pounds of food scraps for the farms. For the spring semester the department expanded the program to three more dining locations. By the time summer came, the department had collected 24,850 pounds of waste for the farm.

“I anticipate that number will go up next year,” Gipper says. “We are continuing the program through the summer, but we will only have one dining hall participating. But it’s just great to think that if not for this program all of that waste would have been washed into the sewage system.

“We purchase pork from the farmers that participate in our FDI, which has been great. The farmers told us that their meat processor told them that the pork coming in is very high quality. The farmers are also pleased because now they are allowed to have a larger herd because they don’t have to buy as much feed over the winter. That’s a big thing for them because they are just a local small family farm.”

Licensed to feed: One challenge Gipper says the department ran into was that the state Department of Agriculture required that they be licensed as a livestock feeder. However, Gipper says the process of getting the license wasn’t as difficult as they thought it might be. 

“We are a unique livestock feeder in that we don’t do the hauling,” Gipper says. “The Ag Department worked with us because they were figuring out how to do this type of license as well. As far as I know we are the only university in Michigan that is licensed to provide scraps for livestock feeding.”

Food safety also became a big concern since the farmers are picking up the scraps.

“We were very particular with our farmers to let them know it is not acceptable, from a food safety point of view, to bring clothes and shoes that were out on a farm into a food production kitchen,” Gipper says. “We had to teach them that they had to change their shoes and wear clean clothes into the kitchen since they are coming right into the coolers and picking up the scraps. It wasn’t a tough thing to teach them, but we wanted to make sure they were following our hygiene standards.”

Gipper says she believes one of the main factors behind the success was getting the staff to buy into the program. She made sure the staff was always aware of what was going on with the program and even let them interact with the farmers.

“Like with any change you want to let the staff know what is coming, get their input and be sure they understand the positive impact they are having,” Gipper says. “Our staff really got into it. Plus, the farmers would let us know if a sow had a litter and they’d let us name some of the pigs.”

Despite the program’s success Gipper says they haven’t given up on getting a composting program in place. This summer the department is doing a pilot to figure out the correct blend of pre- and post-consumer waste for vermicomposting. However, that doesn’t mean the Food Diversion Initiative will be ending.

“Who knows how long it’s going to take to get a composting program going?” Gipper says. “[The Food Diversion Initiative] has been so much fun and done so well that I’m sure it will be going on for a long time.”  

More From FoodService Director

Industry News & Opinion
Richard cousins

Compass Group confirmed this morning that CEO Richard Cousins was killed on New Year’s Eve in a small-plane crash off the coast of Australia. He was 58.

Cousins was scheduled to step down as CEO in March, after leading the world’s largest foodservice management company for 11 years. His planned successor, Compass COO Dominic Blakemore, has agreed to assume Cousins’ duties immediately.

“We are deeply shocked and saddened by this terrible news,” Compass Chairman Paul Walsh said in a statement. “It has been a great privilege to know Richard personally and to work with him for...

Menu Development
to-go meals

Drew Allen didn’t hesitate when asked what he expects of noncommercial dining in the future. “Change,” he says. “We have to change with the times and what our guests are looking for.”

Allen, the director of culinary services at Otterbein Senior Lifestyle Choices in Lebanon, Ohio, says the more the residents and guests at Otterbein change, the more diverse eating habits his team has the chance to explore. One of those changing habits, he says, is diners’ growing desire for portable, made-to-order items . That’s a theme borne out by data, too—and is true across dayparts. Roughly 67%...

Ideas and Innovation
trail mix

We’ve added fueling stations in our units for our workers who didn’t have time to eat or just need a snack. We have areas set up with trail mix, crackers, cookies and water. It helps us avoid people feeling or getting ill, especially when we get closer to exam periods and student workers are studying and not taking the time to eat.

Ideas and Innovation
email

Communication is key, and [managers] are busy too. One tip I picked up from another director was to label my subject line with the header “action,” “information” or “response” followed by a brief description of the email contents. That way they can filter through their inboxes during their busy days to know which emails need their attention immediately and which they can save to read later.

FSD Resources