Northern Valley Catholic Social Services (NVCSS) CalFresh Healthy Living (CFHL) program worked with 7 schools in a Shasta County school district to implement a food waste reduction, recovery, and redistribution program. College volunteers were recruited to help assess school food waste and implement a food waste reduction campaign and competition in 5 schools. The competition resulted in a large reduction of food waste throughout the 5 schools that joined the campaign.
The NVCSS CFHL program has had a long-standing partnership with Enterprise Elementary School District (EESD), which encompasses 7 low-income schools in Shasta County with 3,672 total enrolled students. In school year 2022-2023, the amount of cafeteria food waste became a topic of concern within the schools. It quickly became the focus of NVCSS’s CFHL program with EESD, along with continuing to support nutrition education and school gardens. Food waste is a pervasive issue, occurring at all stages of food production, distribution, and consumption. According to Feeding America, in the U.S., up to 40% of produced food goes uneaten, with about 95% of discarded food ending up in landfills.1 The CFHL team set a goal to understand where food waste was occurring at each school, and what solutions could be implemented to reduce it.
With the help of 12 volunteer fellows provided through a partnership with the Shasta College Corp program, CFHL began assessing the amount of food waste in each school and identifying the source. The goal was to gather data that would facilitate tailor-made solutions for food waste reduction. An essential aspect of the assessment was to establish positive relationships with cafeteria staff, emphasizing the program's purpose without evaluating their performance.
The fellows visited each school, explained their mission to principals, and weighed cafeteria trash over five consecutive days to gauge food waste. Staff interviews, observations, and weighing of trash after each lunch shift were conducted to calculate the average waste.
During the assessments, CFHL recognized an opportunity to make an impact at salad bars, where students often chose more than they could consume. To combat this, CFHL launched food waste reduction education across the district, covering environmental impact, recycling, food insecurity awareness, and waste management. The campaign included a competition, where classes competed to reduce waste, fostering a sense of responsibility among students. The CFHL team provided a series of links to online videos for all teachers to watch with the students the week before the competition began. The videos explained the impact of food waste on the environment, the importance of working to reduce food waste, and the explanation of the competition process.
During the week of the food waste reduction campaign, each class has a designated food bin at the end of their lunch table with a white board attached. After lunch ends, one student per class is responsible for weighing and recording the cumulative weight on the large white board. The weight is recorded and visible for all classes to see. At the end of the week the class with the least amount of waste receives a prize that is determined by the school’s principal.
The competition yielded remarkable results, reducing food waste by an average of 44.2 pounds per school. This amounted to a total of 243 pounds per week of all the schools combined. The CFHL team observed the food waste reduction program to be most effective if the principals, teachers, and staff were supportive and excited about the competition. CFHL staff and fellows noticed that schools with high amounts of reduced food waste had viewed the videos, supported the process, and engaged the students.
NVCSS’s CFHL program plans to capitalize on this contest's momentum throughout EESD and continue progressing with food waste reduction strategies. A combination of Smarter Lunchroom Movement (SLM) strategies and nutrition education, will be implemented in every school. Reinforcement messages will be created and provided to each cafeteria, encouraging students to take only what they will eat and share what they do not.
Regular follow-up cafeteria assessments will be performed to measure the impact and success of the continued programming. CFHL also plans to build, provide, and manage "Free Little Pantries" in every school to reduce wasted food. Food put into the “Free Little Pantries” will be for any student wanting to take extra food home. This effort will reduce food waste and food insecurity throughout the Enterprise School District.
In this quest to combat food waste and address food insecurity, NVCSS’ CFHL team remains committed to transforming the Enterprise Elementary School District into a model for sustainability and responsible consumption.
1Feeding America. (n.d.) Food Waste and Food Rescue. Retrieved November 1, 2023 from, https://www.feedingamerica.org/our-work/reduce-food-waste#:~:text=Shockingly%2C%20nearly%2040%25%20of%20all,billion%20pounds%20of%20food%20waste
Contact: Tenneal Bringle; 530.392.2974