Many years ago now, in one of my earliest blog posts ( hard to imagine that I’ve been doing this for eight years now,) I posted the picture above of a carrot from my hard soil, because I thought it was funny and I had little else to talk about that day. Now, I think that my ardent carrot is part of a much bigger picture, and that picture is the ugly landscape of food waste.
Globally, unbelievable amounts of food are wasted, enough to feed a lot of hungry people, and you can read about that and about what one lively activist is doing about it in this article.
My own interest in the subject is smaller and more local. What can be done to reduce waste around our homes and neighborhoods? Start with the carrot above, and with imperfect produce in general. Are you willing to buy it and eat it? If your favorite grower at the farmer’s market sold imperfect stuff at a somewhat reduced price, would you buy it? Let them know.
When you are the grower, the task can be more satisfying, and small livestock can help. Eat what you can yourself, and share with others. People have been so market-conditioned to demand perfect produce that I can end up giving my friends the most perfect specimens and eating the imperfects myself. Get yourself a good nose-to-tail vegetable cookbook to help you eat and like the “nasty bits” of your veggies. Then look at what’s left and who will eat it, because a lot of it isn’t ready for the compost yet.
Chickens are your best friends when it comes to reducing waste. They will eat and relish greens in huge quantities, and will eat carrots, winter squash, and other chunky things if they’re cooked soft or ground in the Cuisinart. They love the residue out of the juicer, and will dispose of most of your table scraps if they are chopped finely. Personally I do not limit my chickens to a vegetarian diet because chickens are among the most profoundly omnivorous animals around, along with pigs and we ourselves. Any arguments that feeding them “garbage” is inhumane are absurd when said “garbage” was on my own plate and would have gone down my own gullet if my appetite had lasted a bit longer. They scratch over, poop on, and compost what they don’t eat, providing you with increased bounty down the road. I have read the argument that feeding them in this informal way malnourishes them, and can only reply that as long as extra calcium is supplied, my little flock shows admirable vigor and my hens lay industriously through age 4. A good laying pellet is available to them free-choice.
Goats occupy a different place in the waste-eating structure. Contrary to general belief they are fussy eaters and will nose at and play with anything but will only eat things that are choice in goat terms. Goat treats include anything that’s woody and fresh, which is why you don’t keep them loose in your yard: all trees and shrubs will be killed in short order. It is also why they effortlessly absorb things that you have no other use for, such as rose prunings (unsprayed, of course.) My goat loves rose trimmings, corn stalks, carrots, pumpkins, celery and other things that the chickens have no use for, eats all my fruit tree trimmings and some excess fruit, gnaws every edible bit off broccoli stems and other large coarse plants that are otherwise hard to dispo, and will eat some large coarse weeds but only the ones that she personally selects. Amazingly, she rejects kale, lambs-quarters, and other things that I consider delicious. We do have a major trash tree in my area, the Siberian elm, and she adores them, so I cut down the ones that are growing where I don’t want them and leave the stumps in place, coppicing them for future goat food. She also eats a lot of expensive alfalfa, so believe me when I say that there is no such thing as a free goat. On the contrary.
Pigs are among my favorite animals, and throughout the third world they are prized for turning waste into human food. I wish that I could recommend them for the urban homestead, but they smell too bad when kept in small areas and get too big. A full-grown hog of breeding age is practically the size of a dining room table but stronger and more determined. Urban Farm Online has a good brief summary of why they don’t recommend pigs. I have heard it suggested that the much smaller Vietnamese pig might be good for urban bacon, but I don’t know anything about that and don’t know if anybody has tried it. If it could be made to work, it could be interesting.
I would not want any of the above to be taken as saying that you can feed animals free on household scraps. If you have animals, you can plan to spend plenty of money on feed. You will also spend time learning to care for them, and then attending to their daily needs. But they will utilize some garden and kitchen leavings and supply you with a nice end product.