School district partners with Barthold Farms to recycle food scraps
Editor’s note: This is the third and final article in a series on the local school lunch program.
In a home kitchen, people can recycle cans, cardboard, bottles and plastic containers. Any edible food scraps can be shared with pets and livestock or added to a compost pile to improve the soil.
The same can be done at school, and the benefits can be sizeable.
According to Dan Schoepke, environmental specialist at the Washington County Department of Public Health, school trash is taken to Resource Recovery Technologies in Newport. There it is mechanically processed into a fuel used to produce electricity at power plants in Red Wing and Mankato.
Food scraps, however, are a liability. Because they are heavy and wet and have little fuel value, Schoepke said, it is better to keep food waste out of this system.
A much better option is to give it to pigs. At Barthold Farms in St. Francis, pigs are happy to dine on the bread, pasta, beans, meats, fruits and vegetables that students discard.
Since 2010, Century Junior High has helped feed the pigs by sorting food from nonfood at the discard line.
They were followed by Scandia Elementary and Southwest Junior High in 2011, and Forest Lake Elementary and Forest View Elementary in 2012.
Forest Lake High School also started sorting waste in 2012, but only in the kitchen where food is prepared.
In this Washington County initiative, schools save money by putting food scraps in special barrels instead of in the garbage. The county awards grants to help buy barrels and other equipment.
Kids do the sorting, “under the supervision of adults with long tongs,” according to Larry Martini, the school district business director.
“When we implement this in the high school,” Martini said, “we’ll look to the student council to supervise the process.”
Pete Barthold has been recycling food scraps on his farm for 25 years, he said, and has regular pick-ups at schools in the Stillwater, White Bear Lake, Chisago Lakes, St. Paul, Eden Prairie, St. Francis and St. Cloud districts, in addition to Forest Lake.
Before that, his grandfather and his uncles were feeding food scraps to pigs. Barthold’s mother’s father, Leroy Johnson, fed restaurant scraps to hogs on his farm in Fridley, located where Totino-Grace High School is now. The land was sold in the late 1950s.
Then Johnson’s sons carried on the tradition. Now Barthold and his cousin are the third generation in the business, and Barthold’s sons are the fourth.
Together they feed a lot of hogs. In addition to his 1,300 to 1,500 hogs, one son has 800, and his cousin has another 800 to 1,000.
“I can take more food,” he said, in case other schools want to join the program.
But things have changed since Leroy Johnson’s day. The food scraps must be cooked now before they can be recycled. The Minnesota Board of Animal Health, which supervises the farmers through a licensing procedure, says no person may feed garbage to livestock or poultry until it has been thoroughly heated to at least 212 degrees Fahrenheit for at least 30 minutes.
When he started transporting school food waste to his farm, Barthold said, he used box trucks and barrels. On reaching the farm, the truck would be driven up a ramp and dumped into a former cement truck and emptied into the feeder on the hog lot.
That labor-intensive system required twice as many barrels, the barrels had to be washed, and eventually customers wanted their own barrels.
So after about five years, Barthold created a new system with specially designed trucks.
Now the truck driver rolls the barrels onto a lift, which raises them (barrels and driver) to the top of the truck. The driver dumps and cleans the barrels. Then the truck lowers them all back to the ground, where the driver replaces the barrels in a structure that conceals them and keeps out intruders.
At the farm, a boiler room readies steam to be piped into the truck for 35 minutes to satisfy federal and state requirements.
“People from other states have asked to buy trucks from me,” Barthold said, but he’s not in the truck manufacturing business.
The school district pays the farm around $3.50 to $4 per 32-gallon barrel for the collection. Each barrel holds up to 200 pounds of food and drink waste. This saves the district money on its trash bill, which is based partly on weight.
In Minnesota, counties are responsible for solid waste management and are charged with meeting a minimum 50 percent recycling goal, by weight, by 2015.
Targeting school cafeterias makes sense because food waste is plentiful, heavy and relatively easy to collect. The program is also educational, teaching kids that recycling has value.
Washington County has found that about 80 percent of cafeteria waste is food and drink, including kitchen prep waste. The rest is mainly milk cartons and other packaging, plus napkins, paper towels and lunch bags.
Schoepke said milk carton recycling will be the next target area for schools. The Stillwater district has already started collecting cartons in schools.
At Scandia, the first elementary school in the Forest Lake district to sort food scraps, the school collected about 168 pounds on the first day of the program. This is enough to feed almost 17 hundred-pound hogs for a day.