Food waste has rapidly become a hot issue.
Respectable news outlets have run articles about it and organizations have cropped up to fight it and raise awareness about it.
In their own way, the Geary County Food Pantry and local grocery stores have found a way to combat food waste on a local level and they’ve been doing it for years.
According to volunteer Don Manley, the food pantry receives donated goods from local grocery stores seven days a week. The donations consist of items that would otherwise be thrown out — produce that is no longer marketable or fast approaching its sell-by date.
All of Junction City’s chain grocery stores — Aldi, both of the local Walmart storefronts, and Dillons — contribute produce and other goods to the food pantry that would otherwise be thrown in the dumpster. Fort Riley's commissary donates items as well, especially seasonal and closeout goods. Panera Bread of Manhattan and Junction City’s Starbucks also donate unsold food to the local food pantry.
When local farmers and gardeners have an overabundance of produce — more than they, their friends and neighbors can eat themselves — they’ll often bring it by the food pantry. Local hunters will sometimes contribute venison.
“The less we can throw away, the less goes in the landfill,” Manley said. “You’re better off having a diet of produce than the sugars. It’s a healthier environment."
The pantry sometimes buys food, when needed, from the Kansas Food Bank in Wichita.
Manley estimated that only about 10 percent of what the food pantry gives out to its clientele comes from community donors. This is not to discourage community donations, which he said are appreciated, but the bulk of the goods the food pantry hands out come from local retailers.
And it receives a wide variety from the shops — every type of fruit or vegetable imaginable, meat, dairy and bakery items — a little bit of everything. Manley said the most common items the food pantry receives from the grocery stores are lettuce, tomatoes and apples.
“If it’s in the grocery store, we will get it and then we will give it out when we do our normal distribution to families,” Manley said.
It’s good, he said, for children in particular to have access to fresh, healthy food.
Once in the hands of the food pantry, food is rarely thrown away. Items that are spoiled or covered in mold may end up in the garbage, but if something is salvageable, it is handed out to the food pantry’s clients.
“We appreciate the produce (even) more than the sweets,” Manley said. “The families need the produce."
Manager of the food pantry Debbie Johns has said she hopes to find a local farmer with pigs or goats or something similar who might be willing to take some of the spoiled produce and feed it to their livestock. This would reduce waste even further.
At the moment, according to Manely, a handful of farmers and the Milford Nature Center receive some of the produce that is too far gone for human consumption.
“Anywhere that we can get rid of it rather than throw it in the dumpster, we do,” he said.
However, the food pantry is always looking for hungry mouths to feed — be they human or farm animal.
But only a small percentage of food is deemed inedible for humans, in any case.
“We try to keep (food) as long as we can,” Manley said. “If there’s an abundance of produce, sometimes we have to throw stuff away."
According to volunteer Brad Carlton, sometimes the food they receive from shops — food that would otherwise have been thrown away — is in perfect condition.
“Sometimes we get stuff that looks absolutely fresh — unspoiled, unblemished,” he said. “Sometimes I think maybe they have too much of a certain item that they don’t think will sell.”
If this kind of overstock happens, instead of tossing the goods, the stores pass it on to the food pantry.
Before he began volunteering at the food pantry, Carlton said he had no idea how much the pantry received from local shops — and how much food waste was prevented in the process.
Carlton considers it a blessing to be able to hand out this food to people in need.
“To be able to have a family get it, instead of going to waste — it just really makes us feel good,” he said.