By Mary Ellen Psaltis
I don’t mean finding nickels and dimes. I’m talking dollars – to the tune of at least $300 per year, but as much as $1,560.00 annually. Did you realize that the average American family throws away more than $300 worth of edible food per year? This is according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Another accounting estimates that the actual cost is $130 per month for a family of four. I can think of way better places for my money than the garbage can.
Where do you begin?
First, take a look inside your own cabinets. Mine are filled with recipe ideas represented by cans of small red beans, chunky soup and bright mandarin oranges. They were meant for someday. Perhaps this would be a good week to use a few of these treasures. Cans last a long time, but not forever.
Then, consider the meals you will be eating at home over the next few days. There’s no need to plan for Friday’s dinner if you are going out for pizza. Overbuying is not a money saving strategy. A list can be helpful. The idea is to eat all the food that you buy. Promptly.
Next buy smaller amounts of fresh fruits and vegetables that can be used within a few days. As soon as I bring in my bag of weekly farm-share vegetables or purchases from the grocery store I look at all my items reminding myself of when they will be ready for the table. What’s the plan? There’s no time like the present to chop and sort. Make sure that your produce can be seen when you put it into the refrigerator. If it’s not in a clear bag, it’s too easy to forget what is inside.
Thurston County Public Works Department wants you to keep your food and your money out of the trash. They have devoted pages of their website to tips, contests and ideas and even recipes to maximize your food dollar and minimize your food waste footprint. You can even take the Waste Less Food Challenge. It’s amazing, especially if this is all new to you. Check it out.
As I became more aware of my food waste, I became interested in worms. Not the night crawler-types, but with red wigglers. They’re recycling worms that eat my food scraps. A friend gave me a baggie of worms to start my own bin, and I was hooked immediately. These little (quiet) beings graciously take the pieces of fruits and vegetables that I don’t eat such as avocado skins, banana peels, egg shells, apple cores and beet skins as well as coffee grounds and tea bags and turn it all into worm castings, which are fertilizer gold.
We do the upmost in our house to eat up all the edible food, even if the worms would enjoy it. However, they are the recipients when some dish becomes no longer fit for eating. This ‘garbage’ goes out to my worm bin instead of to the landfill. My big plastic box (recycle bin) is home to handfuls of red wigglers who work 24/7 to turn my waste to nutrient rich worm castings. Mixing this into your soil provide readily absorbable nutrients for all your plants.
There is a lidded glass jar on my kitchen counter for food scraps. When it’s full, I dump it into my bin conveniently located outside not far from the back door. One of my favorite health tips is this: If you are unable to sustain a worm bin, then you are not eating enough fruits and vegetables.
Local expert Alex Weisser, owner of Wiser Worm Farm, is a long-time vendor at the Olympia Farmers Market. He sells Liquid Organic Fertilizer (worm tea) and containers of worms to get you started on our own bin.
Weisser says he got into the business somewhat accidentally after noticing two things: The plants that grew near the liquid runoff of the worm bed grew well, and that worm castings (digested and excreted worm food) were “pretty expensive.” Weisser noted that people continue to turn to worm tea (the liquid fertilizer) for home and garden use because they want to “keep away from chemical fertilizers.”
Make no mistake, worm tea is not a poor substitute for chemical fertilizers – it’s perhaps a stunning step beyond! The microbial activity increases growth and health of plants. And, it will not burn even sensitive plants. Ask Weisser how using worm tea can make a difference at your home. Just to be clear, worm tea is not for human drinking. It’s the liquid that passes through a worm bin and is collected underneath. It happens to be the color of a dark brewed tea. At the market you can buy your first worms, worm tea and castings and you can also make purchases through his website.
Worms don’t eat everything. You’ll need to dispose of bones, meats, oils and most of your citrus, but you can give them your newspaper. You will be impressed how much lighter your garbage can becomes.
Here’s one more tip, which you probably already do, but it’s worth noting. When I do have food leftovers that appear to be going nowhere fast, I put them in a small container and pop it into the freezer before they go bad. These small portions are perfect for lunch or a small dinner when fewer people are at home.
By spending a bit of time noticing what is in your cabinets and in your refrigerator, you can plan to make the most of your purchases. Eating more fruits and vegetables tastes great and is beneficial to maintaining your optimal weight. Worms make excellent pets. They are totally quiet, provide an invaluable service and they don’t mind if you go away for the weekend.
Eat Well – Be Well