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Feeding Crops from the Grocery Shelf

Company takes food to fertilizer and back again

Agriculture and energy are often two sides of the same coin. A typical supermarket tosses out 500 lb. of food waste each day. In April 2016, a California state law kicks in requiring supermarkets to compost or recycle food waste. Nationally, USDA has targeted a 50% reduction in food waste by 2050. However, visionary Dan Morash is ahead of the changes. He’s already pumping the flow of food waste full circle—directly back into agriculture.

There is tremendous energy value in food waste. It can be burned to create energy or run through an anaerobic digester to make methane as an energy source. Morash, CEO of California Safe Soil (CSS), a company he founded in 2012, takes food waste directly from grocery stores and transforms it into a liquid fertilizer.

CSS diverts 2.2 million pounds of food waste from landfills to its Sacramento processing plant each year, and uses aerobic enzymatic digestion to make fertilizer from fruit, vegetables, meat, fish and bakery items—essentially all organic waste from the supermarket. Food is 75% water and turns to slurry as it is ground up, and later to a liquid when CSS enzymes are applied. In three hours, the final result is Harvest to Harvest (H2H), a high-value fertilizer with a two-year shelf life. The CSS liquid solution replaces 1.1 million pounds of nitrogen fertilizer annually, according to Morash. 

Between 30% to 50% of all food generated goes to waste. Morash targets waste from supermarkets because the large volume is scalable and the food is high quality. At no charge, CSS obtains relatively fresh food products with minimal contaminants. Cooperating supermarkets cull the produce aisle and dump into a pallet-sized, double-walled CSS tote. Large supermarket chains have distribution centers to stock member stores. Fully loaded trucks supply each store but return empty. For Morash, the empty return represents a free back-haul for totes. 

Typically, supermarkets send waste to landfills and pay for long-distance transport. CSS eliminates that link and saves supermarkets money.

As little as three days pass as food waste journeys from store shelf to soil application. Day one: Produce is dumped in the tote. Day two: Produce arrives at the CSS plant, enzymes are added and it’s converted into fertilizer. Day three: H2H is at the farm in a drip line. H2H is ideal for the specialty crop industry, but Morash wants to expand its use in conventional crops.

H2H fertilizer has been field tested for three years by Edwin Lewis, professor of entomology and nematology at University of California–Davis. “In most of our trials, H2H treatments have done at least as well as whatever product the farmer was previously using. In many cases, H2H has performed even better,” Lewis notes. “We’ve never tried it on any crop where it hasn’t worked.”

“Basically, soil organisms have the same diet as humans—proteins, fats and carbohydrates,” Morash says. “Let’s feed them food waste.” 

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