Sustainability

How Farmington Municipal Schools and K-12 by Elior diverted 100,000 pounds of food waste from the landfill

Farmington Municipal Schools was awarded Elior North America’s Doing Good award for its work in diverting food waste from the landfill.
Composting at Farmington schools
Farmington Municipal Schools was recently awarded Elior North America's Doing Good award. | Photo courtesy of K12 by Elior.

In Fall of 2019, Farmington Municipal Schools in NM received a complaint from the city of Farmington Public Works Department, which manages the sewer system. The issue was that milk waste which was being poured down the drains was causing a problem for the city’s water supply. The team jumped into action, said Marie Johnson, student nutrition program coordinator at Farmington Municipal Schools, looking for solutions to discarding milk and other food waste in a more sustainable manner. So, the team decided to start a composting program with the help of AMF, a NM based composting facility.

“So, we started a program just really operating at kitchens and hoping that we could work with custodians instead of pouring milk down the drains that we could divert that to this receptacle that we had to collect food waste and so we started with our central kitchen location,” said Johnson.

Building the program

The team soon moved on to include all 18 kitchen sites that have food production on site and now they’re tackling the challenge of cafeteria food and milk waste.

“And so that is what we are in the throes of now ensuring that all students know how to manage food and milk waste that is leftover after they have enjoyed their wonderful nutritious meals,” said Johnson.

The biggest challenge with building out the compost program, according to Johnson, was gathering support from different stakeholders, particularly with lunch aides and custodians.

“So, garnering their support and helping them to understand why we're doing this. Of course, for adults change is very difficult. And so, getting them to ride this train with us has been somewhat of a challenge,” said Johnson.

The biggest solution to working through that challenge, said Johnson, is education. She said the team works on promoting the 'why' behind the program, ensuring parents, students and employees understand the importance of diverting food waste.

“What we're doing now is really working with the kids because they are the future. They're the ones who are going to be leaving this planet to and they can impact their parents. If they go and they see what they're doing at home is not aligning with what's happening in the cafeteria, they're going to say something to mom and dad,” said Johnson. “So hopefully working with the adults as best as we can. And really, really working with the students, the kiddos that's where the change is gonna come.”

Despite the challenges, the program has been successful, even diverting over 100,000 pounds of food waste. And Farmington Schools sustainability efforts garnered attention from foodservice provider Elior North America, parent company of K-12 by Elior which runs foodservice at Farmington schools.

Elior’s Doing Good award

In 2023, Farmington Municipal Schools was awarded Elior North America’s Doing Good award, meant to recognize individuals or groups that are working to make their communities more sustainable.

“They were awarded the end late of 2023 due to being an exemplary model of our Doing Good platform, which is our social and environmental responsibility platform through the efforts that they've made to divert food waste away from landfills using compost as a way to make a positive impact on the local environment and their community as well,” said Kelly Meyers, senior director of responsible business for Elior North America.

In addition to composting efforts, the team also works on diverting food waste through Elior’s Waste Nothing program, using batch cooking and forecasting methods. The team also reduces energy once a month on its energy efficient school days, service days that avoid use of everything that requires energy, electricity and gas. The team implements a cold menu for the day. Johnson said that each time the schools participate in an energy efficient day, the district saves at least $100 in energy costs.

“And so multiply that by 20. That's $2,000. So, it adds up and it's a great way to save money, save resources. And also, it's a day that gives our staff in the school an opportunity to do some other items like deep cleaning,” said Johnson.

Elior’s Waste Nothing program

The Waste Nothing program is an initiative started by Elior to help bring awareness to the amount of waste created in the kitchens and the cafeteria. The program helps foodservice teams track and monitor food waste as well as correct the waste by forecasting production numbers. The program helps to educate employees on the issue of food waste, said Kelli Stradling, district manager for K-12 by Elior.

“And a lot of the education that goes with Waste Nothing is the awareness that it brings because when you're aware of how much you're throwing away by measuring it, by looking at it, by seeing it, then it brings to the forefront of your mind ways that you can reduce that, because you have it available to you and you're seeing what's going on,” said Stradling.

The tool helps the team develop “rescue recipes” utilizing ingredients that would otherwise go to waste.

“And we take that waste and identify what products can be used and how we can put those into what we call rescue recipes,” said Amy Gibbons, regional manager for K-12 by Elior.” And really make additional recipes out of the items that we identify as waste. So, tomato tops, jalapeno tops, pepper tops, we know those are going to be waste. So how can we make those into a rescue recipe?”

Stradling said implementing the Waste Nothing program took some time as the team worked on educating employees on their food waste reduction efforts.

“Like Marie said, sometimes for adults, change is hard. A big pushback is they saw it as another step in their day. They're already very busy, they have a lot of work to do in the kitchens. And so it was another step, another process,” said Stradling.

However, she noted that employees eventually got on board with the program.

“Everybody adjusts and I think that they can see the benefit to when you can see how much you're wasting it changes your mindset,” she said, “By now across the board, not only our employees in the kitchen, but faculty in the schools that would see the trash cans go out. It's always a really deep, touchy subject with how much food is wasted. Nobody ever wants to see food waste, so it does help definitely knowing that their efforts change that.”

Goals for the future

Moving forward, the team hopes to get every school fully onboarded with its composting program.

“Even our pre-schools. We want them involved in this movement,” said Johnson, “So it’s a lot of boots on the ground trying to get the training component done.”

Another goal for the upcoming year is to address the issue of plate waste by educating students on taking only what they can eat.

Johnson’s advice to other operators working on their own sustainability program is to start small.

“Don’t try to do everything in a day,” she said. “Because every little, small thing that we do makes a big difference and we just have to remember that.”