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Friday, Apr 19, 2024

Farmers, Businesses on Mission to Save Produce From Waste

In one week, Eco Caters, a downtown based catering and venue-rental company, saved 800 lbs. of mushrooms that would otherwise end up in the landfill.

Obtained from San Marcos-headquartered Hokto Kinoko Co., the mushrooms were fermented, pickled, dehydrated and canned, said chef and owner Nick Brune, with the goal to save an additional 800 lbs. of produce per week. One dollar from each sale is going back to the farmers and another dollar to the San Diego Food Bank, he said.

Similarly, California Wild Ales, a sour beer brewery headquartered in Sorrento Valley, is purchasing blueberries originally meant for a consumer-facing you-pick operation by the pounds (800 so far, to be exact) from Mellano & Co., which operates the farm at The Flower Fields at Carlsbad Ranch as well as its own farm in Oceanside. Mellano & Co. is also selling blueberries to Miramar-based Serpentine Cider and Setting Sun Sake Brewing Co., as well as blueberries and olives to Temecula Olive Oil Co., according to Mike Mellano, CEO.

The goal, said Brune, is to form a preserve co-op of sorts between purchasing businesses and partnering farmers to help reduce the ghastly food waste occurring locally during the pandemic as a result of the mandated closures.

Massive Waste of Resources

“When I first found out the amounts of food that was going to the garbage my immediate thought was, ‘this is a massive waste of resources,” said Brune, who launched Eco Caters in 2007 and had a revenue of $4.7 million in 2019. “It shows the huge problem with the supply chain and food industry that no one ever talks about. The grocery stores are running out of produce and the farmers have no access to get food in these places because it is all about mass distribution. These farms are throwing away tonnage of food.”

Indeed, the amount of food waste during the coronavirus crisis is staggering, according to a recent The New York Times article.

“The nation’s largest dairy cooperative, Dairy Farmers of America, estimates that farmers are dumping as many as 3.7 million gallons of milk each day,” the report states. “A single chicken processor is smashing 750,000 unhatched eggs every week.”

This is part of the reason why Zack Brager, founder of California Wild Ales, decided to purchase 200 lbs. more of blueberries this year than last year from Mike Mellano and The Flower Fields. At $2/pound, Brager said the blueberries are not just worth every penny based on quality, but it has also helped the small brewery transition to online sales during the pandemic.

“Eighty-five percent of our sales were out of our tasting room,” he said. “So, what we realized was that we had to transition to mainly online sales during this time. We were in an advantageous position already because we had about 15 bottles ready to go when this hit. So, we put them all online along with actually starting to release bottles (using the blueberries as a base). We saw a lot of success in that transition to online, some weeks climbing back to what we would do with just tasting room sales alone.”

280 Gallons of Golden Sour

Brager said the blueberries are being used to create flavor profiles like “Blueberry Pancake”, which consist of blueberries, maple syrup, cinnamon and vanilla; “Blueberry Pie,” with blueberries, cinnamon and vanilla; “Black and Blue,” which is blueberries mixed with blackberry puree; “Cherry Blue,” a combination of cherries and blueberries; and its “Carlsbad Blueberry Ale,” made with re-fermented blueberries. So far, the first 400 lbs. of blueberries made 280 gallons of California Wild Ales’ golden sour, he said, and an additional 400 lbs. was on its way to the brewing facility just days before this issue went to print.

Mike Mellano said he established his partnership with local breweries and distilleries a few years back and was able to expand on it during the shutdown. So far, he has sold around 1,500 lbs. of blueberries, he said.

“COVID-19 hit and it shut down the opportunity for us to allow people access to The Flower Fields to do their own harvesting,” he said. “Now, we’ve been able to sell to local roadside farmer stands including through our own, as well as selling to local breweries and distilleries. We have had success with them in the past. Now we are building on that success, expanding on it and trying to make sure we continue to do more. We made sure we made the connections and had the discussions and found where there is interest and we went from there.”

Farmer Preserve Project

For Brager, founder of California Wild Ales, this unofficial “farmer preserve project” is not just about fulfilling the needs of his own production, but to repurpose these crops and find inventive ways to save locally grown fresh goods. And this isn’t a pandemic mentality, he said, it’s the method through which he normally conducts business and the way the food industry and the food supply chain should always be.

Brager not only works with Mellano and The Flower Fields, he said, he also partners with local growers that run small vineyards. He said he works with a woman in Escondido that has 47 citrus trees on her property to make sure her produce doesn’t go to waste. In fact, last year, when her grapes didn’t turn out well enough for wine, Brager and his partner went and cherry-picked as much as possible to use in beer. Brager also said he recently upcycled 500 lbs. of blackberries and raspberries that Miramar-based Lost Cause Meadery had already used to flavor its mead and reused it for a sour beer.

This, Brager said, gives him a sense of immense pride.

While production is relatively small at California Wild Ales, Brager is proud of its contribution, especially during this time of uncertainty.

“We love the fact that we can make sure there is no wasted product,” he said. “We are incredibly proud of this and happy to be able to help the iconic Flower Fields. We are a local company making an impact on a larger scale.”


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