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Garden School Foundation

Cafeteria to Compost: Fighting Food Waste and Food Insecurity

Nonprofit

Cafeteria to Compost teaches students how to combat both food insecurity and climate change through the simple, daily practice of sharing, redistributing, and composting leftover items from their lunches. Our program shows how school composting can increase fresh food access, reduce food waste, drive climate action, and provide jobs for parents. A grant from LA2050 would help us expand to a second school site with a new team of parents and demonstrate the model for LAUSD more broadly.



Describe the mission of your organization.

We provide garden-based education at public schools in LA. By combining gardening, sustainability, and cooking classes, we harness the full potential of school gardens, helping children learn to care for their bodies, their communities, and the earth. We serve 7 Title I elementary schools, reaching over 3,000 students and their families a year.

In which areas of Los Angeles will you be directly working?

  • South LA
  • Westside
  • LAUSD (select only if you have a district-wide partnership or project)

What is the problem that you are seeking to address?

We address both food waste and food insecurity. Angelinos throw away 1M tons of food a year, making up 45% of every landfill. At 24th St. Elem., our flagship garden, nearly 100 lbs. of compostable food a day was being discarded, which is 18,000 lbs. a year! Yet over 1.1M L.A. residents are also food insecure, with 410,000 children at risk of hunger. Understanding the connection between food waste and food insecurity, our program models how public schools can be sites of action. At 24th St. Elem., 93% of students qualify for Federal free/reduced lunch. The surrounding neighborhoods of West Adams/Jefferson Park are part of the County’s Service Planning Area 6, where 31% of residents live in poverty and 30% are food insecure. As one of the densest populated areas (pop. 1,030,078), South L.A. has only 46 grocery stores, far less than more affluent areas. While food access is improving in the area, new food outlets can be unaffordable or inaccessible for low-income residents.

Describe the project, program, or initiative that this grant will support to address the problem identified.

To act on these twin issues, Cafeteria to Compost operates within the most logical places to reach the greatest number of highest needs children: public schools. We start the school year by visiting every classroom with lessons on composting and what they can expect in the cafeteria. Then, every day at the lunch tables (pre-COVID), a paid team of parents and interns help students return and share unwanted food items during lunch, and again with families at pick-up time. From Sept. 2019-Feb. 2020, we composted or redistributed over 9,000 lbs. of cafeteria food, diverting food waste from the landfill to our school compost piles and significantly increasing local food access. Unique to our program is the paid team of school parents - jobs that also help foster parent engagement at school - and our Training Modules, Classroom Curriculum, and a detailed Operations Manual. In Fall 2021 we’ll continue building the operation at 24th St. and expand to a second GSF sister school, Grand View Blvd. in Mar Vista, where 65% of students qualify for Federal free or reduced lunch. While the food share component may still be temporarily curtained per Covid restrictions, collection and diversion to the compost will proceed. The program builds on years of GSF programming and deep engagement with both schools, cultivating school leaders, teachers, plant managers, parents, and cafeteria staff. Recognizing our decades of work with schools, LAUSD is crafting a permanent Service Agreement for GSF.

In what stage of innovation is this project, program, or initiative?

Expand existing project, program, or initiative (expanding and continuing ongoing, successful work)

Approximately how many people will be impacted by this project, program, or initiative?

1,398
Direct impact
1,450
Indirect impact

Describe how Los Angeles County will be different if your work is successful.

From a City-funded pilot in 2018, we’ve built our program slowly over three years, fine tuning and collecting data. During the grant year, we’ll prove that Cafeteria to Compost is replicable and scalable. As we expand to Grand View, we’ll debut our Training Modules and Operations Manual that detail everything from how to collaborate with school staff, to how to build compost piles and test finished soil. We’ll share collection metrics with cafeteria managers to help determine the amount and type of food they order for their schools (source reduction). Our long-term goals are: 1) have the program at all 7 GSF schools and then; 2) have the District create permanent Food Services Division staff positions to run Cafeteria to Compost programs on their own. With the average school throwing away 150-200 lbs. of food every day, imagine what food access and reduced landfills in LA County could look like if even 10% of LAUSD began a Cafeteria to Compost program!

What evidence do you have that this project, program, or initiative is or will be successful, and how will you define and measure success?

We measure the impact of our program by the: 1) amount of food waste diverted from the cafeteria to the compost piles; 2) amount of unused food that we recover from the cafeteria and redistribute to the school community, both at lunch and after school; 3) number of other GSF schools that have adopted the program; and 4) number of opportunities we have to share our results via presentations, tours, and meetings with District officials. From Sept. 2019-March 2020 (when schools closed), we had composted 5,325 lbs. of cafeteria food. Students dropped off 21,528 items at the Share Table, and picked up 10,898 items. We redistributed edible food and milk to school families after school at pick-up time (2,602 recipients), for a total of 3,753 lbs. of food, plus an additional 5,429 items of food/milk that were counted individually but not weighed. Our total diversion of food waste from the landfill was over 9,000 lbs. See the full 2019-20 24th St. stats archive: https://bit.ly/3d6hhTF.

Which of the live metrics will you impact?​

  • Access to healthy food
  • Food insecurity
  • Resilient communities

Indicate any additional LA2050 goals your project will impact.

  • LA is the best place to LEARN

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