Today is Earth Day. What used to be a little-known and quickly forgotten blip on the calendar has become a widely celebrated holiday, across the nation and the world. I tell everyone I know that it’s my favorite—even above New Year’s—because protecting and preserving the natural beauty of our planet is of the utmost importance.

But as climate change becomes less of a myth and more of a startling reality, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. What can be done to address this crisis? How can we ensure a vibrant, clean, and healthy world for future generations?

Though our mission addresses food insecurity first and foremost, Manna Food Project takes initiative in environmental concerns, too. We do this in three ways:

  • Food rescue and public food donations
  • Composting food that we can’t redistribute
  • Purchasing organic produce from local farmers
  • Fighting food waste, one meal at a time

As much as 40 percent of the food produced in the United States goes to waste every year. This happens at every stage in the system: farming, processing, retail, and even in our own homes. Low crop prices and labor shortages may discourage farmers from harvesting everything they grow. Strict manufacturing standards cause good produce to be thrown out for aesthetic reasons. Confusing date labels or slightly dented packaging leads grocery stores and consumers to discard good food. All of this leads to major food surpluses that normally end up in the trash.

Wasted food makes up about 21% of our country’s landfill space, polluting valuable land and sending serious amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. At the same time, millions of people in our country are struggling with hunger. Every wasted meal is one that could have gone to a family in need.

This is where Manna’s Food Rescue program comes into play. Manna trucks are on the road every day collecting surplus food from local grocery stores and retailers, and our doors are always open for families to donate canned food items they no longer need. All of this totals around 500,000 pounds from our Northern Michigan community each year! Through a similar process, the national Feeding America Food Bank Network is able to save and distribute 2 billion pounds of surplus food each year.

Saving what we can, composting what we can’t

Thanks to our friends at Emmet County Recycling, Manna has been regularly composting most of the fruits, veggies, and other foods we receive that we can’t redistribute. We’re happy to give all food a future.

Composting naturally “recycles” the organic plant materials that make up our food and yard waste, and the process turns it into nutrient-rich soil and fertilizer. Composting not only removes large volumes of waste from our landfills but also decreases greenhouse gas emissions, specifically methane, that contribute to global warming.

In 2019, Manna diverted an average of 1,600 pounds of food scraps from landfill each month. That’s nearly 20,000 pounds a year!

Local, organic fruits and veggies

Buying local means less transportation and shipping, less food waste, less water and electricity consumption, and less pollution. Buying directly from a local farm or shopping at the weekly farmer’s market also means much less packaging is needed, and it ensures the food was moved directly from a local farm to your refrigerator.

We’re proud to have a long list of local farmers to serve nearly all of our produce needs. The majority of our suppliers—such as Bear Creek Organic Farm, Coveyou Scenic Farm Market, and Open Sky Organic Farm—go a step further with organic produce, which means fewer toxic chemicals in our ecosystems as well as in our bodies.

This Earth Day, we’re proud to celebrate the little victories that can make a big difference in the long run.

Jessyca Stoepker | April 22, 2021