Closing the loop: Food waste gets gobbled up on farms

Chickens eat sushi while washing it down with non-alcoholic beer

Sushi, sandwiches, broccoli, yogurt, and non-alcoholic beer. Sounds like things you might eat when in fact, it’s what I feed my chickens.

Yes, you read that right. My chickens eat sushi and drink non-alcoholic beer on occasion.

It’s all thanks to a program called The Loop and a local grocery store chain, Save-On-Foods. The Loop started in 2017 in Dawson Creek, B.C. when founder Jaime White began working with the local Co-op grocery store. Tired of working away from home, White wanted to reduce feed costs, and build up his farm so he could spend more time with his family.

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He had to jump through some legal hoops in terms of paperwork, but the name speaks to something else.

“We call this ‘Loop’ because it had to have a name, but also because we need to close the loop between waste and food,” said White.

There are now more than 790 farms in B.C., Alberta, and Saskatchewan that are obtaining waste food from grocery store chains such as Co-op, Safeway, Sobeys, and Save-On-Foods. Participating members — who call each other ‘Loopers’ — partner with a local grocery store and are assigned a pickup day.

On my designated day, I give the store a heads-up call so staff can gather all shrink — goods that would otherwise be discarded in the dumpster that day. I drive to the store’s loading dock wearing my “uniform,” (a tuque that says “Loop”), ring the doorbell, and see what awaits!

It’s sort of like Christmas every week. I never know what I’m going to get.

Do chickens like sushi? You bet, and they also chow down on sandwiches, yogurt, cheese, and a host of other grocery store items that would otherwise go to the landfill.
photo: Jill Burkhardt

Produce, meat, and items from kitchen/deli are always included in pickups but there can also be bakery items, dairy products, frozen foods, and even flowers waiting to be picked up. My job is to load all these goods into totes and take them back to the farm.

Everything the store puts out has to be taken. That means if a cooler goes down or a load is rejected at the dock, the farm has to take it. All the loads I’ve picked up have filled my short box F250 pickup with the extra going into the back seat. Someone (usually one of my kids) has a box or two riding on their lap.

Once we get home, we unload our bounty and the sorting begins.

We go through all the bags and boxes we get and anything that is still “OK for human consumption” goes to a local food bank. Salad greens, peppers, and various vegetables are fed to the cattle. The chickens get pretty much everything: sandwiches, sushi, yogurt, juice, milk, cream, cheese, deli meat, fruits, and vegetables (although the horses have claim to the carrots and apples). Our barn cats eat leftover kitchen items: an assortment of fries, fried chicken, and various hot items the store serves. Our farm dog enjoys the benefits of The Loop, too: meat products past their “best by” date.

The average farm in The Loop program has three to 15 pigs, 20 to 150 chickens, three dogs, and other miscellaneous farm animals.

Our farm has greatly benefited. We’ve eliminated our barn cat food bill, which was running us about $35 a month. Since the chickens receive various meats and dairy products in their diet now, we no longer need to buy a layer protein supplement (which ran about $60 a month). The chickens still receive free-choice grain but their intake is reduced — they used to eat four five-gallon pails of grain a week. Now the 40 layers consume a pail or two a week.

In addition to the savings in feed, our farm is also helping keep literally tons of waste out of the landfill. In addition to the beverage containers, all the plastic packages, containers, and clam-shell packages are taken to recycling.

The Loop is a fairly new concept in Alberta, starting in June of last year. There is talk of other grocers partnering with the concept, and expansion into other provinces and territories.

I enjoy participating with The Loop and am excited to see a program that helps farms prosper, grow, and thrive.

About the author

Contributor

Jill Burkhardt, her husband, Kelly, and their two children, own and operate a mixed farm near Gwynne, Alberta. Originally hailing from Montana, she has a degree in Range Management from Montana State University. Jill’s agricultural passions are cattle and range management but she enjoys writing and learning more about all aspects of farming.

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