At first glance, it looks like any other restaurant garbage can: a medley of cauliflower stems, cabbage stems, carrot tops and onion skins.
But these kitchen scraps atop the trash at Gather, a farm-to-table eatery tucked on the corner of Carson and Telegraph streets in downtown Carson City, are not headed for the city landfill.
This disposed food is heading for a farm 40 miles away in Wellington.
“This stuff gets picked up by the farmer every day — he feeds them to his animals,” Gather Chef Howard Jachens says. “It’s pretty cool.”
It’s a Wednesday afternoon and Jachens, prepping for the dinner rush, is in the middle of breaking down a hunk of lamb meat as he talks about the restaurant’s table(scraps)-to-farm waste stream.
It’s one Gather’s many sustainable practices. From using compostable takeout containers to 8-ounce water glasses to, most recently, giving food waste to farmers, Gather has operated in a green manner since opening its doors in July 2018, said owner Angela Bullentini Wolf.
“When I opened this restaurant, I wanted to open with greener procedures that had an eye toward being more environmentally friendly,” Wolf said. “I try to practice environmentally-friendly practices in my personal life. And I thought, if I could translate that to the restaurant that would be really ideal.”
Pausing, she tacked on: “I know restaurants can be terribly environmentally unfriendly.”
She’s not kidding. Zooming in on food waste, the average restaurant produces 100,000 pounds of garbage per year, according to the Green Restaurant Association. What’s more, roughly 95 percent of restaurants’ waste could be recycled or composted. All told, the restaurant industry generates about 11.4 million tons of food waste annually at a cost of $25 billion per year, according to Restaurant Hospitality.
“That makes me cringe,” Wolf said. “Mostly, because that’s a wasted resource that can be diverted elsewhere.
“When we designed our menu, we had in mind the issue of food waste, and we definitely wanted to control food waste.”
FINDING green solutions
Which is why Gather is one eight restaurants on Carson Street that signed on to be a part of the green dining district in Carson City. Launched in late April, the pilot program is being led by Donna Walden, president of greenUP!, a Northern Nevada-based nonprofit that provides environmental education to businesses. The project was funded by the $20,000 Nevada Department of Conservation & Natural Resources’ Division of Environmental Protection’s (NDEP) Sustainable Materials Management Recycling Program grant announced in December 2018.
Walden said the goal of the program is to help restaurants reduce all waste streams, with a strong focus on food waste. In fact, the eight restaurants in the program have committed to having their food waste measured throughout the year. A researcher at the University of Nevada, Reno, will analyze the collected data and perhaps look at what — and how — other cities are doing food waste-wise, Walden added.
Meanwhile, with the guidance of greenUP!, Gather and its fellow green dining district participants will be exploring solutions for reducing and diverting their food waste. Hence, a farmer taking scraps off Gather’s hands and into his animals’ mouths.
“Typically, food waste goes into the landfill and that creates a lot of greenhouse gases,” Walden said. “Reducing food waste is good for the environment and it’s good for the restaurants because it saves them a lot of money. If we can get the restaurants to change their behavior and not throw their food in the landfill, that will be a success.”
At Scoups Ice Cream and Soup Bar, owner Kimberly Landry said they joined the Green Dining District for that very reason. Like Gather, Scoups’ food waste and scraps are being diverted to a farm.
“I cringe just in seeing anything that we waste in this shop,” Landry said.
Offering what she called a simple menu of 16 ice cream flavors and three soup flavors per day, Landry said her establishment does “pretty well” in not wasting food.
“When I purchase things for use in my store, it’s not a super large volume,” she said. However, “It’s important to do our part in trying to reduce garbage that is filling the landfills. If everybody could do that, that’s a plus. It also helps in that we’re paying attention and keeping our food waste in one container and recyclables in another.”
As part of the green dining district launch, greenUP! provided recycling guides to at least 30 restaurants on Carson Street, between Stewart and Winnie Streets. The guides encourage the establishments to eliminate straw usage, discontinue use of Styrofoam containers, practice energy saving measures and compost their food waste.
For Jeanne Dey, owner of Artisan Café, joining the green dining district was a no-brainer. Since opening in 2011, the restaurant and bakery has been serving up sandwiches, salads and baked goods with the environment in mind. And food waste is no exception.
“We repurpose anything and everything,” Dey said. “If we have (kitchen) scraps that can be remade into soups or things that we can donate that are extras, we do that. There’s really nothing that we have that goes to waste.”
Dey said the café also repurposes containers and uses biodegradable paper products and biodegradable cleaning products. Additionally, Dey said Artisan has eliminated the plastic drinking straws “as much as possible.” She added: “It’s kind of hard to take their straws; people are like, ‘This isn’t California!’”
HURDLES TO GOING GREEN
Running a greener restaurant, however, has its challenges. One is the cost — it’s more expensive to buy biodegradable products, Dey said.
Another challenge is time, said John Arant, owner of the Martin Hotel restaurant in downtown Carson City. At the Basque restaurant, bus and wait staff members aren’t swiftly scrapping off plates as they clear tables. Instead, they separate the food waste from the recyclables, which can take “considerably more time,” Arant said.
“The real challenge is the mechanics,” he continued. “On a very busy night, it is difficult to separate consistently all the time because of the rush of clearing tables and providing customer service at the same time. It’s getting used to that change.”
For Wolf, her biggest food waste challenge at Gather is predicting what the market is going to be and how many hungry folks are walking through her restaurant’s doors.
“This is especially true when you are serving foods that aren’t easy to freeze,” she added.
Yet, the green dining district restaurants are rolling up their sleeves, repurposing their food, separating their garbage, and taking the extra steps to help make a difference, no matter the size.
“Carson is just another small spot on the map, but if we could start here and have it grow, the better it is for the environment,” Landry said.
Added Dey: “It’s important for our small town to get more modernized as far as being green and participating in initiatives that moves us into a more progressive community,” Dey said.
Offering a lighter perspective on what the green dining district achieves, Artan quipped: “Our food waste is recycled into bacon — it’s a wonderful thing.”