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Eight ways to end food waste and learn about local food

Putting the volunteers to work
Putting the volunteers to work
Nancy Munro

Do you know what a Seminole pumpkin looks like? How about an Everglades tomato?

If you were given some produce that wasn't your idea of "perfect", would you toss it or turn it into dinner?

The answers to the above questions and more were available at today's Growing Green Communities Event at Pine Jog Environmental Center in West Palm Beach. From organic soapmakers to lessons in canning, composting and reducing food waste, the theme was "Saving The 30%, Using The Food We Grow." According to Feeding America, 15.9 million children under the age of 18 live in U.S. households without consistent access to nutritious, fresh food. That's a lot of hungry kids who cannot go out and fend for themselves, and with an estimated 26 million tons of food waste going to landfills, a lot of what we buy and grow but don't use could eliminate hunger in America.

The Growing Green event was designed to help individuals make a difference. If you could not attend today's show, here's what you need to know to help stop food waste, and see what others are already doing:

  1. If you are in the Lake Worth area, check out the Gray Mockingbird Community Garden, with individual and community plots, pot gardening, classes, and food events, including a local chefs competition on Sunday, Feb. 16 which will include music, food tastings, presentations from local growers and the unveiling of a beautiful tile mural painted by volunteers. Brian Kirsch is the director, and you can reach him at GrayMockingbird@gmail.com.
  2. Carol Rodriguez knows how to clean up food scraps - literally. Her line of Carols' Handmade Soaps contain everything from lime and ginger to coffee, tea and cherry blossoms. You can contact her at crodriguez65@att.net.
  3. Ever try growing tomatoes in Florida, the way you used to up north, only to find they don't do very well? Take a look at this brochure, published by the city of Miramar and the Miramar Community Garden. If you've ever wanted to stop flunking Florida Tomato Growing 101, this brochure will help.
  4. And speaking of gardening, if the idea of digging and planting and weeding annoys you, would you grow your own if you could literally set up a garden plot in minutes? Garden In Minutes has a raised bed kit, complete with grid and built-in watering system. You could go from bare yard to bountiful produce in weeks with this setup.
  5. The Glades Initiative, an organization that helps those in the far western Palm Beach communities access social services, is looking for volunteers for a new program. Their Cooking Matters Nutritional Education Program is a six-week program designed to not just give food to families, but teach them how to shop, cook and eat property for good nutrition and good value. They need culinary educators, nutrition educators, nutrition educators and class assistants. Some experience in the culinary arts is preferred, but none is required. Contact Carol Rodriguez at crodriguez@gladesinitiative.org or call (516) 996-3310 to volunteer or make a monetary donation.
  6. If the idea of planting and cultivating your own trees sounds like good value (not to mention good exercise), you will have the opportunity to buy tropical trees and plants at the Rare Fruit Council's sale on Saturday, March 29 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the South Florida Fairgrounds, 9067 Southern Blvd., West Palm Beach.
  7. If you want to meet other people socially who are interested in good food done right, join the local Slow Food USA chapter. The Glades to Coast chapter offers classes, resources for cooks and chefs, tasting events, tips for gardeners, a list of restaurants offering local, seasonal menus and tours of local farms and food producers.
  8. Chef Trina Spillman is Cordon Bleu-trained, but working in the cramped space of a very important food truck. Her Need to Feed mission, sponsored by the Health Care Foundation of South Florida, takes donated fresh food and turns it into meals she then donates to food pantries. While many food pantries already get food donations, most of those consists of canned, packaged and otherwise processed items. Fresh food is a relative rarity, because most food pantries do not have anyone on staff to turn fruits and vegetables into soups and stews. Chef Spillman is that person. Gregarious, outspoken, knowledgeable and passionate, her one-woman food truck is a nutritional godsend.
Putting the volunteers to work
Putting the volunteers to work Nancy Munro

Putting the volunteers to work

Before you can use the donated produce, you have to prepare it, as these teens are doing. Sure, a food processor would be easier, but hands-on is a better teacher.

And when the chopping is done...
And when the chopping is done... Nancy Munro

And when the chopping is done...

From donated, less-than-perfect produce, you get the makings for a superb guacamole, which was sampled by the crowd. This is a perfect example of using what you have and making culinary perfection out of it.

Chef Spillman and her mission
Chef Spillman and her mission Nancy Munro

Chef Spillman and her mission

Chef Trina Spillman, of The Need to Feed Inc., speaks to the crowd. Chef Spillman takes local, donated fruits and vegetables, makes great meals out of what she gets and donates everything to food pantries.

Soap from what's in the pantry, fridge
Soap from what's in the pantry, fridge Nancy Munro

Soap from what's in the pantry, fridge

Carol Rodriguez uses plants and spices in her cottage industry soap creations. You'll love them, because you'll recognize every ingredient on the label.

Hassle-free and small-scale gardening
Hassle-free and small-scale gardening Nancy Munro

Hassle-free and small-scale gardening

Now this is a garden anyone can plant: Garden in Minutes is a complete raised bed system that practically takes care of itself. It's perfect for herbs, small vegetables and fruits, sprouts and grasses.