Island Food Rescue aims to reduce Island food waste

The group collected more than 16 tons of food waste in six months.

Sophie Abrams and Sakiko Isomichi are the brains and brawn behind the Island Food Rescue, an Island-wide food waste initiative. They have partnered with restaurants to collect food waste for composting. — Stacey Rupolo

The Island Wide Organics Feasibility Study has found a new home at Island Grown Initiative (IGI), and will summarize the findings of its recent report in April. The pilot program, now called Island Food Rescue and led by Sophie Abrams, quantifies how much food waste is on the Island and seeks to find the best plan to reduce that waste.

The pilot began in June, and in just six months, Ms. Abrams and her colleagues recovered 32,844 pounds of food — that’s about 16.4 tons — from just six Island restaurants. They also collected an additional two tons from events like the Agricultural Fair, Living Local, and even a wedding.

She told The Times in an interview last Thursday that for the duration of 2017, the program will remain under IGI, which has been a good fit for the program: The mission of IGI is to build a more resilient local food system.

Island Food Rescue will continue to explore different options to handle food waste, like taking the waste to a network of farms for composting, or having one regional, centralized composter. As of now, no final recommendations have been made.

The goal is to find the best way to process all the waste, whether it be converted to energy, animal food, or compost. Ms. Abrams said that a solution would likely include all three.

“Any kind of Island-wide solution is going to consist of different pieces,” she said.

Currently, they’re using a windrow composting system at Morning Glory Farm, where a large row of food waste is mixed with carbon sources like leaves, manure, and wood chips. It breaks down quickly and naturally at a very high temperature for a couple of weeks, and then the compost is moved, to cure for up to a year before it’s ready to be used on the farm.

Ms. Abrams believes the pilot has made good progress, and they continue to research different technologies and also are looking at what other communities are doing in Saugus, Nantucket, Falmouth, and New Bedford.

The idea now is to make it a “self-sustaining program,” and they will soon charge fees to pick up food waste. The past six months were funded by a Vision Fellowship, along with some fundraising.

In addition to the six restaurants they worked with this summer — Atria, the Port Hunter, the Square Rigger Restaurant, and Isola in Edgartown, and the Lookout Tavern and Park Corner in Oak Bluffs — the pilot has added Not Your Sugar Mamas, the Art Cliff Diner, and Wolf’s Den in Vineyard Haven. The Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown has also joined, as well as Behind the Bookstore and Black Sheep.

When the report is completed this coming spring, Ms. Abrams said that she will seek public input through forums. She has been touch with Island board of health agents and plans to meet with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and boards of selectmen to ensure that all perspectives are taken into account and that there are no unintended consequences.

“We want to make sure that any kind of solution isn’t going to take away from the good things that are already happening,” Ms. Abrams said.

They’ve received public input already through a survey conducted, receiving about 100 responses from Islanders. She said at least 40 percent of residents said they are unable to compost at their homes, for a variety of reasons.

“I think there’s a big need for a solution for residents, whether it’s bringing their compost themselves to the local drop-offs in each town, or whether it’s a curbside collection,” Ms. Abrams said.

The pilot was a win for all of those involved — Morning Glory Farm was happy to have the compost, the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group had the best year yet, and restaurants enjoyed being a part of the program.

Ms. Abrams’ vision for the Island is to have food waste separated at events, residential composting, and involve more restaurants and expand to other businesses like schools and hospitals.

It starts with reduction, Ms. Abrams explained. If food isn’t wasted, neither are all the resources that go into to growing it and processing it.

“You want the food to go to the place where it’s going to be most efficient and helpful,” she said.