From fork to farm: Startup recycles grocery store food waste into organic fertilizer

grocery store food waste screencapture
Video screen capture CSS

In just 3 hours, California Safe Soil turns fresh food waste into a liquid fertilizer which promises to boost yields, cut costs, and reduce water pollution in agriculture.

The amount of food wasted each day in just the US alone is enormous, and while we can all easily begin to do something about the food waste that we're personally responsible for, addressing the huge volume of food waste at the institutional and business level is a much more challenging puzzle.

One approach is for groceries to try to entice people to buy the "aesthetically challenged produce" at a discount, and another is to get behind projects such as the Salvage Supperclub or the Food Recovery Network or Food Cowboy, but even after accounting for all the blemished and bruised produce, quite a bit of inedible food waste is still leftover.

On a home scale, turning your food waste into fertilizer is fairly straightforward, as long as you follow the basic principles of composting, but it's not very a quick process. Commercial composting operations can speed up the conversion of organic matter into finished compost, but not nearly as quickly as something like the aerobic digestion process that California Safe Soil (CSS) uses to convert food waste into soil nutrients in just 3 hours.

CSS gets organic waste from supermarkets, transports it in bins designed to keep it fresh, and then uses their proprietary process of grinding, heating, and then enzymatically digesting the food to turn it into a liquid fertilizer, which is then screened and blended into a consistent formula for application to the soil.

The company's flagship product is called Harvest-to-Harvest™, which also comes in a version certified for use in organic food production, and a home garden version is in the works.

"Harvest-to-Harvest™ Organic is an organic certified, stabilized food hydrolysate that is derived from recycled supermarket organics. The term “food hydrolysate” simply indicates that it is the product of the digestion of food with enzymes into a liquid fertilizer. Harvest-to-Harvest™ contains complex forms of nutrients, including: carbohydrates, amino acids (proteins), organic acids, and fats. These complex sources of nutrition are a great source of nutrients and energy for soil organisms and plants." - CSS

According to an article in the Guardian, CSS gets a 90% yield from the food waste conversion, and the rest of the solids leftover from the process get sold as pig food, so the fork-to-farm fertilizer process doesn't produce any effluent to be disposed of afterward.

CSS, which counts Patagonia Works as one of its investors, was chosen as one of ten finalists for the Thrive Accelerator program, and was recently featured during the SVG/Forbes Reinventing America AgTech Summit as one of the companies that is helping to revolutionize agriculture.

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