Eat More, Waste Less: Lessons from Mundo Verde Public Charter School

By Meggan Davis

What does it really mean to have a sustainable, zero-waste school meal program? The answer to this question is one that the team at Mundo Verde, a bilingual public charter school in the Truxton Circle neighborhood of NW Washington DC, is trying to unwind.

Here’s a look at Mundo Verde’s meal program and what they’re doing to make it a sustainability success:

The school plans their lunch menu eight weeks at a time, enabling them to craft meals that take a root-to-leaf approach in using up the ingredients that they purchase. On a Meatless Monday in September, I paid a visit to the school’s small scratch kitchen and witnessed the organized chaos that churns out around 650 meals a day. The meat-free meal of the day is served using reusable trays, cups, and silverware, eliminating disposables such as plastic cutlery that clutter most school cafeterias in DC. I get a taste: they serve me a quinoa burger with roasted sweet potatoes, edamame, and melon. It’s a treat.


Food Initiative and Wellness Manager Kelsey Weisgerber with meal menus

Designing these menus can be a painstaking process–their in-house nutritionist, chefs, and Food Initiative and Wellness Manager, Kelsey Weisgerber, collaborate to ensure that the meals will meet strict federal nutrition guidelines, appeal to students, and cut down on waste. Though this long-range meal planning can sometimes require minor adjustments (an unpopular gazpacho may become tomato soup), it enables the team to plan for overlapping ingredients, minimizing waste and spending.

With the goal of being fully zero waste, the kitchen continually adjusts orders to minimize the number of extra servings. Because student absences and other unpredictable variables make precise meal planning extremely difficult, Mundo Verde has a plan in place to ensure that, when there are extra meals, they won’t go to waste. Once the pulse of the lunch line has died down, any extra servings will be eaten by staff or packaged up for delivery to SOME (So Others Might Eat), a non-profit that serves DC’s poor and homeless populations just around the block from the school. This strategy provides a benefit to the community and keeps nutritious food from being disposed of, a practice that brings the school closer to zero waste and also cuts down on greenhouse gas emissions from food waste.


Classroom sorting station

Because Mundo Verde doesn’t have a cafeteria, students eat in their classrooms where Weisgerber and the school’s operations team have designed an innovative waste sorting process. Students scrape their food scraps into a compost bucket and place their dishes in a bin to be returned to the kitchen and washed. Chefs Dot and Dale use this plate waste from classrooms as a measure of success–high amounts of plate waste may indicate that a menu item was unpopular with students, while little or no waste signals that a meal item was a hit. By examining what students did and didn’t eat, they can make adjustments to upcoming meals to improve student consumption

MundoVerde Waste Log.jpg

Cafeteria Production Waste Log

Once plate waste has been reviewed and recorded, all organic waste from the kitchen and classrooms is collected by local hauler Fat Worm Compost to be processed at a facility in Prince George’s County, Maryland.

The school is also continually evaluating how to make the meal program more accessible for their families, reflecting a shift towards the holistic view of sustainability that can also be seen in the Sustainable DC 2.0 Plan.  At $4.75 a serving, the cost of a meal at Mundo Verde is relatively high; meals range from $2.80–$3.30 at DC Public Schools (DCPS) and are free for all students at the approximately three-quarters of DCPS schools where most students’ families meet USDA income eligibility requirements. Despite the price, families are choosing to participate in the program–around 70% of families ineligible for a discount elect to pay the $4.75 fee for lunch. Mundo Verde also has multiple strategies in place to support family access to meals. As a result, on an average day, 46 families receive breakfast for free and 71 families receive lunch for free or for a discount. These strategies include:

  • Free breakfast for any families who want it (regardless of income)
  • 26% of families (those deemed economically disadvantaged through national guidelines) receive a free meal through support from the national school lunch program
  • School-funded discounts for families that do not meet national eligibility guidelines for free meals but do meet income eligibility for the state of Alaska (a higher threshold)
  • School-funded Hardship Program to support families with temporary needs

Mundo Verde smartly manages their waste in accordance with the EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy, maximizing the benefits of their program for students, their community, and the environment. There’s a lot to learn from their efforts…


Fight Food Waste by Becoming a Food Runner!

During the 3rd Annual DC Food Recovery Week, DC Department of Public, participated in a food run with Food Rescue US, a food runner program that uses an app to coordinate volunteers, who want to fight food waste, to pick up extra food and transport it to the nearest food pantry.  Lack of transportation is one of the leading causes for food waste.   This program is a fast and easy way to save an enormous amount of food from being wasted.  Check out this video to see what a food run looks like.  If you have extra food to donate or want to help rescue extra food please check out the Food Rescue US site.

Full slate of events announced for DC Food Recovery Week!


Get ready to love your leftovers and compost like crazy! DC Food Recovery Week–the region’s annual push to reduce the astounding 40 percent of food that’s wasted in the United States–is almost here!

From Oct. 13 to 20, events across the region will spotlight, celebrate and advocate all the ways we can reduce waste and feed more people.

Those looking for a fun, thought-provoking outing might go on a restaurant walking tour, hit a film screening or attend a happy hour. People looking to reduce food waste in their households can take a variety of classes on cooking, composting and preserving. Looking for ways to reduce waste and help feed those in need at your faith community? Check out the presentation titled Food(Waste) & Faith. Most events are free, but require registration.

Put on by the DC Food Recovery Working Group, the week’s full schedule is available here. The DCFRWG is also excited to announce that a parallel Community Food Rescue Week, put on by Manna Food Center, will be taking place in Montgomery County; that schedule can be found here.

New to DC Food Recovery Week this year will be the RescueDish Restaurant Walking Tour. This foodie-oriented walk will hit several locations in the Dupont and Farragut areas that are creating innovative tastes from underutilized ingredients. Cabbage butts? Lemon peels? Spent brewers grain? They’ve all found loving homes in these sustainable kitchens. Tickets for the tour can be purchased on EventBrite.

“One of the best parts of the week is that there really is something for everyone,” said DCFRWG founder Josh Singer, who will be teaching a class on which of your garden’s weeds, flowers and stems can make great additions to your meals.  “We have events for a wide variety of audiences, from foodies to professionals hoping make their organizations more sustainable.”

The silver lining of the food waste issue is that everyone eats, and therefore everyone is able to take impactful steps. Whether you’re just starting to take an interest in reducing food waste or have been composting and making carrot green pesto for years, signing up for DC Food Recovery Week events will help you make a difference!

Follow along on social media, using hashtag #NoFoodWasteDC and on Twitter via @DCFoodRecovery and on Facebook.

Media Contact:
Josh Singer
DC Food Recovery Working Group

First ever RescueDish Walking Tour part of DC Food Recovery Week


Lemon peels? Broccoli stems? Cabbage….butts?

You may be throwing them away in your home kitchen, but the creative, food-loving minds behind some of DC’s most innovative eateries know better. Restaurants like Teaism, Equinox and Firefly have found delicious ways to turn what might be considered “cast-offs” into delicious dishes.

You can learn–and taste–just how they do this during the first ever RescueDish Restaurant Walking Tour, an event that will cap off the 2018 DC Food Recovery Week.

On Oct. 20, walking tour participants will stop at several restaurants in the Dupont Circle and Farragut areas. At each location, they’ll sample bites and sips and will hear directly from chefs and restaurant management about what it takes to minimize food waste and run a sustainable kitchen.

“We’re so excited to launch this walking tour,” said organizer Rachael Jackson, who is on the board of the DC Food Recovery Working Group and blogs at, “These restaurants are doing amazing things and we can’t wait for them to share their stories and tasty creations with our walk participants.”

RescueDish is a campaign to highlight the great work that restaurants are doing to reduce food waste. Between chefs’ passion for food and good business sense, many restaurants have historically been careful to avoid waste. However, the smart ways they do this–and the innovative flavors they create along the way–don’t always get the attention they deserve. By celebrating that creative and sustainable spirit, RescueDish hopes to excite foodies with the opportunity to try new flavors and to inspire home cooks to take a second look at what they may throw away without a second thought.

RescueDish kicked off during the 2017 DC Food Recovery Week by working with restaurants across the city to highlight “RescueDishes” on their menus during the week. Another such week is in the works for summer 2019. The RescueDish planning committee, which also includes Food Recovery Working Group board members Meggan Davis and Jessica Salguiero; and sustainable food advocates Cara Blumenthal and Paloma Sisneros-Lobato, has plans for future walks and happy hours in the year to come.

Tickets for the RescueDish walking tour are $16 and can be purchased here. RescueDish is volunteer-run and the funds support promotion of future RescueDish events.

For a full list of DC Food Recovery Week events, visit the schedule.


Sales of new children’s book support food recovery in DC!


Let’s say you’re a sheep–a professional sheep, in fact–and you need to leap. But the fence you need to leap over is just too darn tall. What do you and your fellow sheep do?

In “The Sheep Who Could Not Leap,” DC FRWG member and children’s author Chirine Alameddine takes us to Woolytown where a group of sheep work together to solve this very problem.

This recently published book is the first by Alameddine, an operations officer at the World Bank. She’s donating a portion of the proceeds to Food Rescue US, which ferries surplus food from cafeterias and other businesses to community nonprofits.

Alameddine first became concerned about food waste when her son told her he and other children had to throw away unopened cartons of milk after lunch. She then worked with the school to make sure such extra, but still safe, food could be directed to people in need.

Alameddine said she hopes families enjoy the book’s humor and the takeaway that obstacles can be overcome with creativity. She’s already working on her next book.

Buy “The Sheep Who Could Not Leap” on Amazon. Also check out for the latest!

DC Food Recovery Week scheduled for Oct. 13 – Oct. 21!

My Post

Mark your calendars! The annual DC Food Recovery Week is next month!

This year’s week will go from Oct. 13 to 21 and will include cooking classes, compost trainings, happy hours, panel discussions and even a walking tour of local restaurants that deliciously reduce their waste. Check back for details on registering for events!

Every year Food Recovery Week grows and this year is no different — we’re pleased that our colleagues in Maryland will be hosting a series of parallel events during the same week in October. Check out Manna Food Center’s website for more details on their Community Food Rescue Week in Montgomery County.

Can’t wait to learn, celebrate and, most importantly, eat with you in October!


Food waste fighters class it up at Equinox


Over limoncello made from lemon rinds and soup made from onion peels, the DC Food Recovery Working Group talked food and zero waste at Equinox last month.

As part of the RescueDish initiative, the Working Group spotlights restaurants who proudly showcase their efforts to reduce waste. The kitchen and bar at Equinox, just a stone’s throw from the White House, didn’t disappoint at a recent FRWG happy hour.

Beverage manager Peter Grimm shared the limoncello he makes from lemon peels leftover from juicing. With a sous vide technique, he makes the limoncello in two hours– far faster than the typical 10 to 12 days.

Chef Todd Gray passed out tea cups filled with a soup he made from “extras.” With onion peels, mushroom stems, fennel branches and some chef magic, he created a creamy bisque. Topping it off, of course, was a garnish of crispy asparagus peelings.

The soup got rave reviews. “What’s it called?” people asked.  “Zuppa di Basura,” Gray said with a wink.

Equinox, well known for its vegan Sunday brunch, stopped offering straws last year and eliminated them completely last month. It’s all part of their effort to go zero waste in the next year. Happy hour attendees, ranging from sustainability experts to government staffers to food rescuers, networked and helped Equinox brainstorm more ways to be sustainable.  

Thanks for hosting us, Equinox! We’re staying tuned on your latest in food and sustainability!


Horace Mann Elementary Leads on Food Recovery and Recycling for DCPS

By Quinn Heinrich

On June 12, 2018, DC’s Department of General Services (DGS) released the DCPS Recycles! Honor Roll, sharing the state of recycling in schools across the District.  The 2018 Honor Roll includes DCPS schools that demonstrate, at a minimum, school-wide recycling of paper in classrooms and common areas or organics and mixed recyclables in cafeterias and kitchens.  The best of these schools made the Honor Roll with Distinction for recycling paper, cardboard mixed recyclables throughout the school and organics in their cafeterias and kitchens.

Standing out on this year’s 57-school Honor Roll was Mann Elementary School, who was chosen by DGS as its DCPS Recycles! Honor Roll Success Story.  Located in Northwest DC’s Wesley Heights neighborhood, Mann has joined former DCPS Recycles! Success Stories Burroughs Elementary School and CW Harris Elementary School as a DCPS Recycles! Ambassador School, who openly invite other DCPS schools to their buildings to learn about how they Recycle Right.  Mann has also participated in several DGS recycling competitions, including the Reduce First! Challenge: Lunch Edition in 2016.

Mann’s success is made possible by everyone in the school playing a part enthusiastically in recycling, starting with the Principal, Liz Whisnant, who is a firm believer in empowering students through sustainability and recycling.  It took just one meeting with the DGS Schools Conservation Coordinator in 2011 for her to learn and start implementing DGS’ 5 Steps to Recycle Right.

The fifth of these steps, which says that correctly sorting waste is the responsibility of every individual, has been masterfully imparted to everyone at Mann.  At lunch, students approach three cans rather than one to dispose of their waste.  Uneaten food goes into a marked compost bin, bottles and cans go into recycling, and the little waste that remains is sorted into the landfill bin (Whisnant specifically had this bin marked “landfill” rather than “trash” so that it could make an impression on the students).  Unconsumed liquids are dumped into a bucket and compostable trays are stacked separately, cutting down on the weight and volume of the bags.

Sabrada Brewer, the kitchen manager, and Greg Bellamy, the maintenance foreman, oversee that this is all done efficiently.  Bellamy then takes the bins and empties them into larger dumpsters (still separating trash, recycling, and compost) so that the waste can be taken to respective facilities.  Bellamy says that his job is actually easier when the waste is sorted because it makes all of the bags lighter and doesn’t overload of the dumpsters.  “I hope we never go back to the old system,” he said.  “I love the new system.”

Taking it a step further, Mann also does food recovery at lunch.  Although some of the students’ uneaten food ends up in the yellow organics recycling bin, unopened and uneaten items are set aside when students clear their trays.  At the end of lunch, Georgette Blake, the school’s nutritionist, and a group of volunteer fourth graders box up all of the uneaten and unopened food items to be stored in their special food recovery refrigerator.  Four times a week, this food is collected by volunteers through the Food Rescue US app and delivered to local hunger organizations Campus Kitchen and Charlie’s Place.

While food recovery is not officially considered part of the DCPS Recycles! standard program, some DCPS schools like Mann have integrated recovery into their regular cafeteria sorting, enabling the school to do good for the community and further reduce waste produced.  This is a best practice that aligns with the EPA Food Recovery Hierarchy, which shows that, though compost is a good practice, feeding hungry people is a better use of leftover food.

Mann’s sustainability initiatives go beyond just recycling and food recovery.  Mann was recently renovated by DGS to be a LEED Gold certified building, and has numerous plants indoors, farms and gardens on campus, bee hives, and even chickens!

All of this enables teaching about sustainability to be very easy.  The students learn about composting early on, and the separating waste into landfill, recycling, and organics bins quickly becomes the norm for the students.  The students who are involved in food recovery are excited to do it, and they understand the positive consequences their actions have.  “It’s a win-win: one person doesn’t want something, and they can give it away to another person,” one student said.  “My favorite part about composting is helping other people.”

Overall, the sustainability programs at Mann Elementary are some of the best in the city, and they incorporate food recovery efficiently through the enthusiastic involvement of everybody in the school.  The level of engagement around sustainability at Mann will enable their young students to continue to help move DC towards its sustainability goals as they grow.


DCPS Recycles!, a DC Department of General Services Program, provides supplies, support, and hauling services to enable all DC Public Schools to recycle, and offers technical assistance to public charter schools.


Want to know more? Visit DCPS Recycles! online.


Further With Food: A hub for food waste resources, organizations


At a recent DC Food Recovery Working Group meeting, Ali Schklair, project manager at Further With Food: Center for Food Loss and Waste Solutions, gave a presentation on her organization’s efforts to be a hub for efforts and information about food waste. Below, she shares the story of Further With Food. 

In the last 5 years there has been a notable increase in attention to food loss and waste (FLW). In 2012 Dana Gunders and the Natural Resources Defense Council published Wasted: How America Is Losing Up to 40 Percent of Its Food from Farm to Fork to Landfill. This groundbreaking report brought FLW into the spotlight and inspired a public curiosity in what happens to the food we buy, but don’t eat. In the fall of 2015, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced a national commitment to cutting U.S. food waste in half by 2030, and by the start of 2016, a full movement had taken shape.

As groups began focusing more on food loss and waste solutions they also began producing more materials to share findings and communicate best practices. A need arose for a central hub for collecting, organizing, and disseminating these mounting resources. Further with Food was created to serve this need. Initiated by twelve organizations leading the effort to reduce FLW, the website provides a one-stop shop for finding content on best practices for preventing, recovering and recycling food loss and waste; educational materials; research results; and information on existing government, business and community initiatives. Further with Food also serves as a platform for coordinating stakeholders and facilitating stronger communication to help prevent duplication of efforts.

Launched in January 2017, Further with Food is still relatively new, and already houses about 300 resources. What makes the website unique is that any individual or organization can submit a resource or upcoming event to the database; resources are reviewed and verified by Further with Food before being published.

The initiative aims to connect organizations and communities working to find solutions to food loss and waste. Having access to so many different resources puts Further with Food in a position to connect people working on similar projects across the country, or even in their hometown.

We want to know what you are working on what issues you think need more attention. Reach out to tell us about your latest project or interest!

Explore the website, upload and share your resources, and sign up for our newsletter to stay up to date on the latest food loss and waste news.


The FRWG Food Waste Warriors Lobby to Save Good Food!


On Monday, June 11, members of the District’s Food Recovery Working Group (FRWG) lobbied the DC Council to move the Save Good Food Amendment Act forward.  Seylou, a DC bakery and regular contributor of food to Food Rescue US in DC provided (delicious!) leftover baked goods for the effort.

The Save Good Food Act would provide tax incentives to DC residents and businesses who donate food to those in need.  Amy Kelley, Policy lead for FWRG notes, “This is a good bill for DC businesses and residents. Unfortunately, some 11 percent of DC residents don’t have enough food to eat.  This bill would provide a small credit to DC businesses who donate safe, healthy food.  It would also help clarify some of DC’s confusing food donation and labeling laws and keep good food out of the landfill.”

The bill was introduced to the Council in early 2017.  It was passed unanimously by the Council’s Committee on Health last summer.  Since then, it has been languishing in the Committee on Finance and Revenue, which is chaired by Councilmember Jack Evans.  The bill can’t go before the full council for a vote until it passes out of the Finance and Revenue Committee.  Kelley notes, “We have every indication that Councilmembers are in favor of this legislation.  This bill also has broad support from DC businesses, non-profits, and residents. We just need to get Councilmember Evans to bring this bill before the Committee for a vote.”

Want to become a Food Waste Warrior and take action on this issue?  Call Councilmember Evans’s office at  (202) 724-8058and tell him that you support the Save Good Food Amendment Act and want to see it move forward. Sign the petition urging Councilmember Evans to bring the Save Good Food Amendment Act to a vote.  Want to get involved in the effort to rescue good food in DC? Contact Kate Urbank of Food Rescue US in DC at