How three Fort Wayne entrepreneurs are fighting food waste

There’s no getting around it. Restaurants and food establishments of all types create food waste. Even if the most is made of every fruit and vegetable, there are cores, ends, scraps, and bits that can’t be consumed, and sending these scraps to the landfill is harmful because they’re organic material that will decompose anaerobically, producing the greenhouse gas methane (see last month’s Ask an Environmentalist).

Even so, throwing food away is still the standard practice for many food establishments across the U.S. However, there are a few Fort Wayne leaders bucking this trend, investing time—and sometimes money—to go the extra mile and make environment-friendly decisions instead.

I spoke with three local business owners who have chosen to find a better use for food waste, even at the expense of personal convenience, staff hours, and increased bills. Here are their stories.

Old Crown Coffee Roasters Mike Woodruff

Mike Woodruff is the owner of Old Crown Coffee Roasters, and he’s the OG when it comes to bucking tradition with food scraps. Mike’s been composting coffee grounds and filters behind his shop on North Anthony for years. As the menu offerings have expanded, so has the on-site garden offering fresh-grown produce used in the kitchen, and the scraps that make their way back into the compost bins beside it. The compost made from the food, and coffee is fed directly into the garden to improve its soil to grow more produce for the restaurant.

This simple idea was so revolutionary that neighbors wondered if it was even allowed at first. As it turns out, there is no governing body in charge of compost bins in Fort Wayne, so an interagency group had to be formed just to establish if there was any violation. Thanks to Mike putting up with several different departments coming out to investigate his work, a list of criteria has now been drawn up for businesses that would like to compost on site without citation.

When asked why he’s gone to such lengths to be able to keep food scraps out of the trash, Mike says it’s about being part of the cycle of growing food and feeding soil, thinking about the future of his daughter, caring about things beyond the bottom line, and even changing the world by changing yourself.

Then he stops and seems to settle on a simple reason.

“Why not?” he says. “Why not do more than the bare minimum?”

Junk Ditch Brewing Co. Andrew Smith

I next sat down with Andrew Smith, chef and part owner of Junk Ditch Brewing Company, to talk about what his restaurant is doing to keep food out of the landfill and why.

Junk Ditch has a close relationship with their main supplier of proteins and produce, Country Garden Farm. They have in place a circular waste-free system where meat, produce, and eggs are delivered to the restaurant, and food scraps are taken back to the farm to be fed to pigs and chickens or composted. I became aware of this when I saw a photo on Facebook of some pigs at the farm eating what looked like a colorful nutritious salad and thinking about how happy the animals looked (and admittedly how delicious they’d probably taste after eating a great diet like that).

Smith has worked in mostly high-end restaurants around the world, including Joseph Decuis in Roanoke, where he learned that high-end dining goes hand-in-hand with maximum sustainability.

“That’s just what makes a good product,” he says. “You can’t get high quality food without considering the whole system. It is more expensive to buy local products, but there is no comparison when it comes to the result.”

Smith estimates that a smaller percentage of customers factor in environmental sustainability than those who simply prefer the dining experience he offers, but investing the time and effort upfront to sort and store food scraps properly is his way of delivering both.

Health Food Shoppe Sarah Claycomb

Sarah Claycomb is co-owner of the Health Food Shoppe in Fort Wayne and has recently subscribed to have an innovative, Fort Wayne-based food composting service called Dirt Wain pick up the scraps produced in the Shoppe’s kitchen during food preparation.

She explains that as the owner of a small business with a grocery and deli, she uses and repurposes everything possible. Less perfect veggies are made into chips, stocks, and juices at the Shoppe. Staff members take home food scraps to compost or feed to pet rabbits. Even so, she still felt like there was a large amount of food going into the trash, driving her to hire Dirt Wain.

As a locally owned and operated startup, this service focuses on community-scale composting “to help move Fort Wayne to its carbon-neutral future by fostering a culture of environmental responsibility and regenerative economic activity.” It offers both pick up and drop off services for food scraps from residences and businesses, but its subscriptions do come with a fee that varies according to how much a business is composting.

Since Claycomb comes from a background in finance, I was curious how she justifies adding another expense to her company for a service that is not technically necessary. She says that after listening to what her staff and customers care about, she came to the conclusion that there’s another cost at stake.

“Loyal customers perceive a value in efforts put into improving our community,” she says. “When you consider the ethical bottom line first, it has a way of coming back to you.”

Food scraps might seem insignificant in terms of bigger issues in the world, what these Fort Wayne food entrepreneurs have found is that small changes can make a big difference—for their customers, their products, and the future of this world we call home.

Read more articles by Jodi Leamon.

Jodi Leamon is a Fort Wayne native with degrees in Environmental Studies from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and Biology from the University of Illinois Chicago. Send her your questions at [email protected]