Closing the Loop: Composting Restaurant Food Waste

How Restaurant Scraps Become Fresh Produce

Reduce, reuse, recycle – we all know the three “R’s” when it comes to waste and virtually no one thinks any of these are a bad idea. But as Stephan Banchero of Cedar Grove Compost and its subsidiary Sound Sustainable Farms likes to say, “recycling is only as good as it is on the back end.” In other words, what matters is what happens to the yard waste and recyclable goods once they leave our curbside.

composting produce - 425 MagazineBanchero is an expert on this subject. His family has been in the waste management service business for a long time, operating garbage removal through Rabanco on the Eastside and started the yard waste-to-compost campaign through Cedar Grove in 1988. In 2007, the company invested in technology to also take food waste in the yard waste bin. Every week, yard waste and food scraps are whisked away from suburban houses to a composting facility in Maple Valley or Everett where it is organically composted into nutrient-rich soil available for purchase at local retailers and even Home Depot.

But Banchero wanted to take it a step further by giving restaurants a way to directly reuse the food waste they generated. A WSU study on the benefits of compost and farming prompted Banchero to ask himself how to marry the two. “All the restaurants we discussed have a great interest in locally grown food. The idea is not necessarily about us being farmers, but modeling a new type of partnership,” says Banchero.

So, last Thanksgiving, he threw out the idea of starting a farm that utilized compost made from discarded food scraps of local restaurants to grow new produce for those same restaurants to serve to guests. Jamie Porter, a long-time friend of the family, answered that call, leaving behind a career in finance to join the Sound Sustainable Farm team in January 2017.

The 65-acre farm sits on the north side of NE 124th Street between Willows Road and Redmond-Woodinville Road. Banchero leased the land in 2016, plowed the weeds and added 2,200 yards of organic compost to build the soil. This spring, they added another 900 yards of compost and, once the rain ceased and the floods receded, they got down to the real work – planting crops for local restaurants.

farmers composting - 425 MagazineThey reached out to potential restaurant partners one by one with an individualized program for retrieving food waste with reduced rates versus regular garbage pick-up costs. “We made some solid relationships with restaurants to make this waste-conversion program,” says Banchero. The current roster includes El Gaucho Hospitality Group, Tutta Bella, The Lakehouse, Miller’s Guild, Cactus restaurants and Tavern Hall, The Metropolitan Grill, Elliott’s Oyster House, and Heartwood Provisions.

“We rehabilitate food waste that contains nutrient value into growing food again.” Banchero reiterates that this isn’t about Cedar Grove but rather restoring natural resources and using their technology to create the highest best end use for food waste. They partner with other local farms including Carlton, Oxbow, and Caruso Farms providing compost and connecting them with local restaurants who want to source local, seasonal products. Longtime Cedar Grove employee Chris Cunningham says they are legitimately closing the recycle loop.

Sound Sustainable Farms asks restaurants what they want to be grown and the restaurant commits to buying the whole product. Current crops include raspberries, strawberries, herbs, tomatoes, lettuce, squash, broccoli, cauliflower, Romanesco, Brussels sprouts, kalettes (a hybrid of Brussels sprouts and kale), peas, and beans. They are willing to experiment and are even considering a shot at asparagus. Chefs are excited that they can come see their product as it grows. In June, Chad Mackay of El Gaucho brought a large contingent of his staff to the farm and the next day, the romaine lettuce they had seen in the field was transformed table-side into Caesar salad.

Banchero is eager for Eastsiders to know that their yard and food waste are being put to positive use. Stop by the Redmond Cedar Grove/Sound Sustainable Farm location and mention “425 Magazine” in exchange for a free bag of compost. This offer is good through the month of September 2017.

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