Zero Food Waste
Ferncroft Country Club Initiative Leads the Way to a Greener Future
Club members expect club food to be something special; it should look good, taste great, and never run out. Clubs provide plentiful dining options, large portions and a smorgasbord of delicious dishes. But what happens to all the leftover food once members eat their fill?
Ferncroft Country Club in Middleton, Massachusetts, became the first private club in the U.S., and the first business in its state, to commit to a zero food waste initiative by using an innovative type of fermentation composting called Bokashi. The club was the first business of any kind in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to adopt this ground-breaking initiative. This program enables Ferncroft to divert four tons of food waste per year from landfills into on site gardens and plantings as fertilizer using a technique that is safe, hygienic, easily implemented, inexpensive and odorless.
“Between member dining, golf outings, private parties and weddings, a private club like Ferncroft generates tons of food waste annually ... literally tons,” comments David Swales, managing director of Affinity Management, which owns and operates the club. “Serving those groups generates a lot of waste. This program eliminates all of that waste—including meat and dairy—and reuses it on site in a new chef’s garden and other on-site planters.”
Programs that eliminate food waste aren’t only for small, rural clubs with time on their hands; Ferncroft has over 500 members. “It’s an active club with engaged members. They like to have fun and they enjoy one another,” comments General Manager Toby Ahern. Even with high traffic levels and sprawling, heavily used grounds, the club is still able to pre- vent excess food from going to waste.
There are over four thousand private country clubs in the US, but none have taken this step until now. The program stemmed from research and coordination between Affinity Management, which owns and operates Ferncroft Country Club, and the Rock ‘n Renew Foundation, which specializes in environmental education initiatives. Rock ‘n Renew’s founder Jonny Dubowsky observes, “Ferncroft Country Club and Affinity Management are leaders. They ask great questions. This is a big deal.” Ahern commented, “We are proud to break new ground by being the first private club in the U.S. to do this. Being a leader is energizing. We own nearly 300 acres in an urban area, so being good land stew- ards makes a big impact.”
Traditional Composting vs. Bokashi
Those who have composted at home know that it can be difficult to implement a traditional composting program in a commercial kitchen. Many foods, such as dairy and meat, cannot easily be com- posted without attracting pests and producing foul odors. In a busy kitchen, that means relying on servers and busboys to sort the food waste from each plate. Salad can be composted, but not salad with cheese or a dairy based dressing. The consequences of mishandling that sorting process can lead to an unhealthy or unpleasant environment. While some small, independent restaurants will have employees sort and take home compost, such systems are rarely sustainable and address only a portion of food waste.
Traditional composting is also a rotting process. To break down the food without odor, a pile needs to be created including the sorted food waste plus grass clippings and leaves. The pile requires sunlight and water and should be turned frequently for best results. The process can be negatively affected if the mix of ingredients is off, and traditional compost piles can also draw pests. So, while traditional composting can be great for home use, it is impractical for commercial kitchens.
Bokashi differs from traditional composting; it is a fermentation process as opposed to the rotting process of traditional composting. Bokashi can accommodate all foods, including dairy and meat, and does not attract animals or produce odor. Bokashi also breaks down food waste much more quickly than traditional composting without the need for turning or adding leaves and grass. Where traditional composting requires maximum air exposure, fermenting food waste with Bokashi is an anaerobic process.
Ferncroft’s Zero Waste Program
Ferncroft has implemented the zero food waste program for both its banquet and a la carte businesses. All cuttings from food preparation and all unconsumed food from plates are scraped into a five gallon bucket in the kitchen, which is emptied at least daily into a larger container resembling a home curbside trash receptacle with wheels. Ferncroft’s golf course superintendent Michael Cassidy purchased the container at a big box hardware store and worked with Affinity Regional Manager John Trimarche to modify it by adding a faucet near the bottom of the container to drain the fluid created by the fermentation process. “We are advised the fluid byproduct can be used as a concentrated soil amendment, but so far we’ve been using it as drain cleaner with good results,” comments Chef Stephane Baloy, who oversees Ferncroft’s program.
As food waste is collected in the containers, the kitchen staff adds a Bokashi mixture that resembles the consistency of barley oatmeal. It is dry, long lasting and safe to handle. Bokashi can be purchased, but Ferncroft makes it own. Chef Stephane says, “It is easy to make and cheaper to make it than to buy it ready made. Everything here is made in the kitchen. Why should this be different?” The active ingredient EM-1 can be purchased online, and the remaining ingredi- ents can be purchased locally.
Once the large container is full, it is sealed and left to ferment for two weeks. It is then emptied in a designated area and covered. Ferncroft’s designated area is near its kitchen and chef’s garden on an ordinary pallet. “We mix the food waste with mulch to accelerate the process, but we’ve heard of others who
dig a hole and mix in soil. Our system works well for us and is easy to access above ground.” The pile is then covered with a tarp and left to sit for approximately two more weeks or until the process is complete. The residual product is then added to the chef’s garden or to other nearby plantings.
“I know, I know ... it sounds like a line from a Saturday Night Live skit: ‘It’s a floor cleaner and a dessert topping!’ The combination of the unusual name “Bokashi,” the lack of anyone else using it in our industry, and the seemingly too-good-to-be-true claims caused us to be suspicious at first. Affinity prides itself on creativity and an entrepreneurial spirit, but we approached this decision more like IBM. We analyzed the zero food waste program for six months and tested it for a year before implementing it at Ferncroft. We engaged the Rock ‘n Renew Foundation as expert advisors, and we nearly drove them crazy with questions,” explains Swales. Adds Swales, “In the end, though, Bokashi has delivered as promised.”
The initial results from implementing the Bokashi program are immediate. “Day one, we stopped sending any food waste to landfills. That means lighter trash bins, less hauling by third parties, and lighter trash trucks using less fuel,” observes Swales who adds, “These were all expected benefits, but we didn’t expect the positive impact on staff and community morale.”
Every club is eager, or at least open to, working with schoolchildren to be responsible and active citizens. As a private club, however, it can be hard at times to find the right approach outside of teaching golf or tennis. For each Affinity managed club that implements zero food waste programs, Affinity works with an organization called Rock ‘n Renew to design educational programs for local schoolchildren (See sidebar at right). The educational partnerships involve gardening, healthy eating and food preparation. Chef Kyle Roberson from an Affinity club in the DC area observes, “At home, parents add cheese to get kids to eat veg- etables, but if they grow the vegetables themselves, bring them here and cook them with me, they don’t need the cheese. There is an intangible quality to growing one’s own food, and the kids teach me as much as I teach them.”
As Affinity has rolled out the zero food waste program at other properties it man- ages, the company has observed tremen- dous staff buy-in. “At first the chef was on board, but everybody else sort of shied away. Admittedly it was a pioneering con- cept, and sometimes pioneers end up face down with an arrow in their back, so we understood their reluctance,” says Swales. In this case, the program received international attention, as the AP wire picked up the story. Inquiries came in from as far away as Sweden praising the program and asking for details and advice. As the attention from outsiders grew, the pride of insiders—both club members and staff—swelled with it. “We’re talking about rain barrels and ideas that we never considered before this. One idea seems to lead to the next. A lot of sustainability ideas seem abstract or taxing, but this is simple and tangible: turn four tons of would-be garbage into food and fertilizer, all within a small area visible to everyone. It feels good, and ultimately we believe the club business is about making people feel good,” Swales concludes.
Customer Driven Idea
Looking back, the “feel-good” outcome of the program should not have come as a surprise. Prior to implementation of the Bokashi program, Affinity had adopted recycling, water management, waste logs and other environmentally friendly practices, but nothing cutting edge. One day an outing client mentioned her customers were particularly interested in sustainability measures. She requested a summary of innovations to promote the club and her event. “We proudly told her about our efforts, and she sort of gave us a blank stare,” Swales says. The message was clear: the club’s efforts were nice, but they were nothing new. What used to be innovative is now standard. “The customer wanted something fresh, and we didn’t have it. We didn’t do anything wrong, but we didn’t make her feel good. We didn’t ‘wow’ her. She was trying to drive more business to us, and we were dragging her down. That is the opposite of our business philosophy, so we set out to do something about it,” explains Swales.
Now, servers routinely overhear members explaining the program to guests and wedding attendees chattering about it amongst themselves. “At the margin, we probably attract some business because of it,” observes Chef Stephane. He adds, “No one will come here if we don’t serve excellent food at a fair price in a comfortable atmosphere with good service ... but those things are available many places. This is entirely different. It creates pride. No one made us do this.”
Affinity has since implemented the program at other clubs under their management, and at each launch, a politician has applauded the club’s willingness to undertake the initiative—without being required to do so by legislation. While Affinity’s innovations have been voluntary, there is concern in some circles that new legislation may be on the horizon.
Right before Ferncroft’s official launch ceremony, the Boston Globe reported that the Massachusetts State Legislature was considering a provision banning all commercial kitchen food waste from landfills beginning in 2014 (See sidebar at right). The Globe article sent shock- waves through attentive club managers and restaurant operators in the state. The proposed legislation would exempt government facilities, such as schools, which might otherwise be the leaders in figuring out the logistics of such a new system and could drive the learning curve to reduce costs for others in such a dramatically new program.
Affinity believes a mandatory program would be costly and disruptive. “In that time period restaurants and clubs would rely on the waste haulers for a solution. That means more trucks, more containers and more costs,” explains Swales.
Leading the Way
“We’re very proud of our efforts, and we’re delighted to be the standard-bearer for the club industry,” Swales comments. Affinity’s zero food waste initiative has been voted Industry Idea of the Year by the National Golf Course Owners Association, and it receives more commendations and accolades daily.
Affinity has also been open about sharing the idea to inspire others. “We’re clever, hardworking and innovative, butwe’re not rocket scientists,” admits Swales. “If we can figure this out, others can too, and while they’re doing that, we’ll be working on the next new idea.”
Damon DeVito is managing director of Affinity Management. Since 1997, Affinity has advised and operated clubs in twenty-six states. For more information email email@example.com, call (434) 817-4570, or visit www.affinitymanagement.com. More information about the zero food waste initiative can be found at www.ferncroftcc.com.
Connecting Clubs, Children & Community
Rock ‘n Renew & Affinity Management Support a Sustainable Future
Rock ‘n Renew is a non-profit organization focused on delivering an environmental education curriculum to students of all ages from over 250 schools nationwide through partnerships with today’s most important musicians. Rock ‘n Renew also works to connect students with local community projects in an effort to repair local food systems and ecosystems.
Rock ‘n Renew and Affinity Management have partnered to implement zero food waste initiatives at Affinity-managed clubs utilizing Bokashi to divert literally tons of food waste from landfills to on-site gardens. As part of Affinity’s zero food waste pro- gram, Rock ‘n Renew has created environmental education programs for nearby ele- mentary and middle schools. These programs help schools build vegetable and herb gardens and educate children about healthy eating and food preparation. Programs to date have culminated with students harvesting their school gardens and bringing their herbs and vegetables to the club’s kitchen, where the club’s chef conducts a healthy cooking class followed by a meal. “It can be hard to get kids excited about greens and nutritious food, but the energy is very different when they grow, harvest and cook their own vegetables,” says Jonny Dubowsky, founder and director of Rock’n Renew.
Affinity Managing Director David Swales observes, “We have found club members and board members to be supportive of such educational outreach, even going so far as to arrange introductions to school administrators. They are proud of the club’s role, and they like to create positive role models for children. That positive attitude of sharing one’s success is one of the things we love about managing clubs.”
To learn more about Rock’n Renew visit www.rocknrenew.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sidebar: Eliminating Food Waste
Making it Mandatory in Massachusetts?
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Americans produced almost 32 million tons of food waste in 2008. While there are some institutions, like Ferncroft Country Club, that voluntarily engage in programs to reduce food waste, these programs hardly make a dent in the estimated 1.1 million tons of food waste generated by the state’s businesses and institutions. Some localities in Massachusetts have attempted to cut down on the food waste headed to landfills each year by making composting mandatory, and the entire state may be gearing up to follow suit.
In May 2012, the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) proposed regulations that would ban commercial businesses, including hotels, from discarding food waste. These regulations are predicted to be in draft form by 2013, with implementation by the middle of 2014.
Though these impending regulations would help preserve the state’s limited disposal capacity, reduce businesses’ solid waste disposal fees, and help with the development of renewable energy through anaerobic digestion in plants throughout the state, such new requirements could leave many businesses struggling to comply.
Additional information on the proposed Massachusetts regulations can be found at www.mass.gov/dep/public/committee/swacorg.htm.