When I first decided I wanted backyard chickens, it was because I wanted those wonderful, rich, super-fresh eggs. I was also thinking of ways I could make my ecological footprint smaller—eggs collected from my backyard have zero food miles. As a former long-time vegan, animal welfare was also on my mind. I had heard the horror stories and wanted to see with my own eyes happy, healthy hens living free under the sun. One benefit I did not foresee was how they would help us reduce food waste.

We all know what food waste is. You open your refrigerator and see shriveling peppers, slimy greens, dark spots on your zucchini. You serve a family meal, your toddler takes two bites (if that) and declares he is finished. You have leftovers stored, you pull them out desperately after a long, busy day, open the container and are confronted by an offensive odor. Nobody likes food to go to waste, so what to do? Here are a few ideas:

  1. Plan ahead—make a weekly meal plan, buy only what you need, and plan for leftovers.
  2. Save—freeze, can or dehydrate surplus or unused food.
  3. Repurpose—use bones and vegetable scraps to make stock, find creative recipes for edible and often discarded produce (like carrot tops).
  4. Organize—label and date refrigerator and freezer items, take stock of food stores when making your weekly meal plan, build your meal plan around items that need to be used.
  5. Compost—there are many ways to do this. Depending on your space, location and needs, choose the method that’s best for your family.
  6. Donate—check with your local food bank to learn about what items they need and accept. Some food banks encourage dedicating a portion of your home garden harvest for donation.
  7. Feed—give appropriate unspoiled items to your backyard chickens or find a local farm that accepts food scraps for animals.

In addition to their feed, we give produce scraps and some foods the kids don’t finish to our chickens. They love fruits, vegetables, grains and beans! As a lunch volunteer at my daughter’s school, I observed a lot of uneaten food go from the serving bowls to the garbage. It was a simple arrangement to start bringing a scrap bucket to the school in the morning and taking it home to the chickens in the afternoon. It greatly reduced the food waste taking place at school while giving our hens a highly anticipated treat! Watch the hens gobble up a day’s worth of food scraps from the school:

Have you found ways to reduce food waste in your home or community? Let us know in the comments, we can all learn from each other!

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