Food Recovery

According to Project Drawdown, “A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources—seeds, water, energy, land, fertilizer, hours of labor, financial capital—and generates greenhouse gases at every stage—including methane when organic matter lands in the global rubbish bin. The food we waste is responsible for roughly 8 percent of global emissions.” 

For more info:

Here in Sonoma County 45,500 tons of food gets sent to the landfill each year.  In addition, 82,000 people in our county face the threat of daily hunger. (Sonoma County Food Recovery Coalition )

The statistics are staggering but there are hopeful solutions that can be implemented by individuals, households and businesses. By both reducing food waste and by recovering food for people first, animals second and then composting, we can be a part of reducing emissions and feeding hungry people at the same time.

Food Recovery Hierarchy

Ideas for Zero Waste Cooking and Shopping at Home

Fine tuning our shopping, food storage and cooking habits at home can save households money and keep food out of the landfills.  The basic principle is to plan what food to buy, use what food we have before it spoils.  In addition, we can learn recipes that utilize less than perfect (but still perfectly safe) foods and make meals of foods we have on hand already.

Many cookbooks, blogs and websites have ideas to help in this endeavor.  Pick an email newsletter or a blogger you can relate to and sign up to receive tips regularly.  The Zero Waste Chef and Foodprint are two examples.

Resources about recovery & distribution while reducing food waste 

Sonoma County Food Recovery 

Crop Mobster Food distribution Directory

There are many groups and organizations that collect excess produce (glean) from farms and private properties. This produce is then taken to organizations that redistribute the food to hungry people. There is also a need for collecting prepared food, the leftovers from grocery stores, restaurants and catered events.  In these cases, proper food safety protocols must be followed to prevent food spoilage.  A plan ahead of time is crucial for keeping cold food cold, hot food hot and for safe transport to recipient organizations. 

Most food recovery work is done by volunteers.  Consider helping one or more such groups by donating  money, food, or your time as a volunteer.


Gleaning groups include:

Farm to Pantry   

Petaluma Bounty  

Food recovery of prepared food (from restaurants, catered events, etc):

Sonoma Food Runners

Recipient Organizations/Distributors
There are many organizations that are set up to receive donated food.

The largest hunger-relief organization in the North Coast is The Redwood Empire Food Bank

F.I.S.H. of Santa Rosa  is the oldest and largest emergency food pantry in Sonoma County. It is a 100% volunteer organization that both accepts food donations (including produce) and distributes food.

There are also small local food banks in each community and organizations that cook and serve food such as the Redwood Gospel Mission, select churches, and senior and childcare centers.  Many of the partner organizations for The Redwood Empire Food Bank can be found on their website under partners.

For a list of many of the California food pantries go to

Federal and state civil and criminal liability laws protect food donors and food recipient/distributer organizations

The California Good Samaritan Act allows food to be donated to an individual or gleaning organization, allows donors to give away food that is fit for consumption but has exceeded labeled shelf life date, and permits food donors to engage in direct donation.

The Federal Bill The Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act  requires that donated food meet quality and labeling requirements, food be donated to a nonprofit and be distributed to individuals in need, individuals not pay for donated food and nonprofits donating food to another nonprofit can charge a nominal fee to cover handling and processing costs.

Help From Home Gardeners and Local Farmers

Many Sonoma County Farmers are also carbon farmers, providing food as well as tending the soil and caring for the environment.  Small farms tend to sell locally to businesses and directly to CSA (community supported agriculture) members as well as at farmer markets.  Buying from small farms that do not use pesticides and herbicides or ship their produce/animals to far destinations care for the environment by keeping chemicals out of their soil and food and keep their emissions lower by staying local.

In addition, farms that are aiming towards regenerative agriculture are carbon farming by utilizing practices that increase the carbon sequestration of their soil while building soil health.  Practices include;  low/no till, cover crops, mulching, hedgerows, plant and animal (wild and domesticated) diversity, and plant communities that encourage natives and biodiversity.  On top of all that healthy food to sell, many of the farms invite gleaning groups to glean extra produce from their fields to feed the hungry and to cut down on food waste.

Food recovery is done at some farmer’s markets to divert unsold food to those in need.  Ask your farmer or farmer’s market what is being done to recover and redistribute extra food.

Home Gardeners  can also be a part of food recovery and carbon gardening.  A home garden can follow the same principles as a farm.  Healthy garden soil sequesters more carbon, retains water longer in dry spells, soaks up water to avoid run off in wet spells, is home to a diverse and abundant microorganism world underground and grows the healthiest food possible.  In addition to caring for the environment, home gardeners can trade or donate extra produce and fruit to others in their community.

Look for a produce exchange/donation program such as the one at the Sebastopol Grange, running the 2nd and 4th Tuesdays of the month May 26-Oct. 27.  Check the Sebastopol Grange website for the calendar and details at Find out if your local food pantry will take your extra produce and fruit or start your own exchange/donation group in your neighborhood.

Check out Your Tiny Farm idea to read an inspiring story of one person’s solution for providing healthy food in Cloverdale and Healdsburg at

For information on carbon gardening practices or to join the climate victory garden movement based on the WWII victory garden movement check out  


Learn more about gardening from the UC Master Gardener Program of Sonoma County.  Master Gardeners conduct free workshops at local libraries each month with many topics to choose from as well as provide the answers to gardening questions.  Check the website for gardening information and the details on the library series.

The Community Seed Exchange has a Seed Garden,  a Seed Library and a monthly gardening class.  This group has volunteer gardening and seed saving opportunities as well as seeds to share and information on gardening and seed saving to pass on.

To learn more about regenerative agriculture and how it’s practices influence and interact with the health of the earth and of our food system check out Regeneration International at   At the top of the food recovery hierarchy is Source Reduction which aims to reduce the amount of surplus food generated. How is our food system producing so much food yet so many go hungry? Is large scale agriculture feeding us and healing the soil or is it compounding existing problems?  Food for thought.

Food Safety

Whether you find food products in your kitchen past their expiration date or you have experienced a power outage, it is important to learn whether or not food is safe to consume. In the event that food has spoiled beyond people and animal consumption, it is important to place unwrapped food items in the compost or green waste bins for collection. By composting spoiled food it is kept out of the landfill which is important  because organic matter (like food) takes up space and produces methane, a greenhouse gas.

Resources on food spoilage and food safety:

New State Laws 

California has passed legislation to help prevent organic material from going to landfills.  This is to prevent it from producing methane as it decomposes.  Methane, more potent than carbon dioxide, is a greenhouse gas, a climate pollutant.  Businesses and institutions will be required to follow certain requirements as these laws are phased into effect.

Mandatory Commercial Organics Recycling (MORe) requires that businesses generating certain amounts of organic waste must arrange for recycling.

The Short-Lived Climate Pollutants Reduction Act requires a 50% reduction of organic waste from the 2014 levels by 2020 and a 20% reduction of edible food waste by 2025.

Food Recovery can play a part in this effort with a side benefit of diverting surplus food to hungry people.