Turkey Thicket Rescued Food

Preventing Food Waste from Summer Meal Programs

Lessons from the DC Department of Parks and Recreation and Food Rescue US Partnership

IMG_1677 (1).jpeg

DPR staffers at Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in Ward 5 hold up pre-packaged summer meals. Extra meals from Turkey Thicket were directed to Damien Ministries. (Photo by Kate Urbank)


Wasted food has been a chronic problem for sponsors of USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which ensures that children in low-income communities have access to food even when school is not in session. Each year the site sponsors, who serve food, grapple with the question of how to order the correct number of meals when they don’t know how many children will need to eat on any given day.

Meals are wasted when there is a mismatch between the number of meals ordered and the number of meals served, a gap that arises from uncertainty around how many meals the sites could expect to serve. In 2017, over 19,000 SFSP meals went to waste in DC. To prevent more meals from going to waste, Karyn Kennedy, the Program Specialist for the Summer Food Service Program at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) reached out to Food Rescue US to arrange for delivery leftover summer meals to organizations in need, provided technical assistance to sponsors, and recruited Meggan Davis (DC Department of General Services) and Kate Urbank (Food Rescue US) to train sponsors on food rescue.

DC Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) was selected to pilot a food program due to the potential for impact—DPR is the largest SFSP sponsor with between 140-177 summer meal sites–and an expressed interest in reducing waste. In past years, DPR has seen about ten percent of their Summer Meals Program meals go to waste. Supervisory Food Program Specialist Angela Tucker led the effort for DPR by monitoring waste, adjusting ordering habits and working directly with Food Rescue and its volunteers.

As a result of this coordinated effort, DPR had 3,053 fewer leftover meals in 2018 than in 2017, saved thousands of dollars, and kept hundreds of meals from going to waste by delivering them to fifteen local DC community hunger partners.


Here’s how they did it—and how other Summer Meals Program sites can too:


  • Create community connections and train staff. Before the Summer Meals Program began, Angela Tucker and Kate Urbank of Food Rescue US strategically selected sites for the food recovery pilot program to provide meals to neighboring area organizations in wards 5, 7 and 8. Urbank sought out community hunger partners who needed and greatly appreciated the leftover prepared meals from the DPR sites, while Angela Tucker, her DPR Nutrition Services team and dedicated seasonal food monitors ensured that on-site staffers were trained on how to set aside and store leftovers for pickup.


  • Recruit volunteers. In addition to the many “Food Rescuers” already registered in the Food Rescue US app, Urbank worked with Angela Tucker and DPR’s communication team to recruit new volunteers through their social media platforms. Once registered, Food Rescuers were matched through the app to routes connecting the various DPR sites to neighboring receiving agencies and made the food deliveries using their own cars. Anyone with a car can be a food runner)


  • Continually evaluate orders. Over-ordering is the root cause of wasted summer meals. Angela Tucker, along with her DPR Nutrition Services team and seasonal food monitors, closely tracked the number of meals ordered and served at each site and adjusted orders daily to ensure that margins reflected actual levels of service. Eliminating fixed margins (a specific number of extra meals at each site) in favor of responsive ordering ensures that sponsors purchase an appropriate number of meals for each site. Thanks to close communication between Food Rescue US and DPR, waste decreased significantly. By the end of the summer, most food rescues had grown smaller and, at some locations, were canceled altogether.

Partner organizations reported being grateful for the meals they received and looking forward to the anticipated expansion of the summer meal food recovery program.

Since 2012, more than  6.6 million summer meals have been served through the DC Free Summer Meals program in Washington, DC. DPR sites account for about a quarter of all Summer Food Service Program sites in DC and a small fraction of the number of sites nationwide. There are several types of organizations that help to distribute these meals each summer, including schools, faith-based programs, non-profit camps, non-profit organizations, and recreation centers. This summer, sponsors of all types have an opportunity to keep many of these meals from going to waste.

Are you sponsoring a summer meal site in DC? To learn more about how your organization can cut costs and reduce waste, contact Karyn Kennedy (karyn.kennedy@dc.gov).

Not a summer meal sponsor, but want to help? Download the Food Rescue US app to volunteer as a food rescuer and connect summer meal sites to community hunger organizations.

Perspective: Sustainable DC Plan and food waste

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 3.56.21 PM

An expanded version of this post originally appeared on DC EcoWomen. Check it out here.

By Lesly Baesens

In the first iteration of its Sustainable DC Plan, the nation’s capital committed to reducing food waste through establishing curbside organic waste pick-up for composting. Though composting is preferable to sending food waste to methane-producing landfills, it should be a second-to-last resort as the resources necessary to produce the food have already been expended. In my paper, Leading by Example: 20 Ways the Nation’s Capital Can Reduce Food Waste, I closely examined the issue of food waste in the District and provided the city government with recommendations on how to tackle food waste more efficiently and holistically.

The paper’s recommendations range from simple ones, such as establishing a food waste reduction target in the Sustainable DC Plan, to more politically challenging ones, including requiring grocers to measure and publicly disclose wasted food amounts. By establishing a food waste target, the city would be encouraged to move beyond composting to addressing food waste more comprehensively. By requiring grocers to disclose food waste amounts, the city would bring transparency to the amount of food discarded in this sector, which in turn would incentivize retailers to waste less.

Since sharing my paper with the Office of DC Mayor Muriel Bowser and other city agencies, I was pleased to find that the city’s latest draft plan, Sustainable DC 2.0, includes several of my suggested measures. For instance, it steps-up the city’s food waste reduction efforts by committing to a target – reduce DC’s food waste by 60 percent by 2032. In order to develop recommendations on reducing food waste, the city will conduct an assessment of food waste in household and businesses – another one of my proposals. Sustainable DC 2.0 also proposes to educate residents and businesses on food “buying, storage, and disposal […] to minimize waste.” As discussed in my paper, consumer education campaigns can help households become drivers of reducing food waste.

These improved commitments are a major step forward for the District in its efforts to tackle food waste. However, I challenge D.C. to consider adopting bolder, more hard-hitting recommendations. We’ll need them if we want to become a model of food waste reduction in the U.S. and internationally, especially if we want to achieve the city’s goal of becoming “the most sustainable city in the nation.” In the meantime, I challenge you to educate yourself about the city’s efforts by reading Sustainable DC 2.0.

Lesly earned her Master’s degree in Global Environmental Policy from American University focusing on sustainable agriculture. A professional with more than 10 years of experience in project management, policy, and research, she is a die-hard food waste reduction advocate and is always looking for opportunities to advance the cause. 

DC FRWG features at DC State Fair


What should you do with stale bread? Should you worry about little white dots on parmesan cheese? And what’s the best way to stock your fridge?

At the ninth annual DC State Fair earlier this year, representatives of the DC Food Recovery Working Group engaged fair-goers on these questions and the myriad ways they can reduce their food waste–and their environmental impact.

During a one-hour session more than 60 people stopped by the DC FRWG table to learn about three themes:

_JP_9580Cooking! Claudia Fabiano, a working group board member, brought samples of dishes
that use ingredients that people might assume are waste. She made banana bread from overripe bananas, pickles from extra cucumbers and panzanella salad from stale bread.

Fridge stocking! Aisha Salazar, the cooking and nutrition coordinator for the Arlington Food Assistance Center, challenged fair-goers to stock a sample fridge to best extend their food’s life. Milk, for example, shouldn’t be stored in the fridge door; it will stay colder on a shelf inside the fridge.

Eating….or tossing?! Rachael Jackson, founder of EatOrToss, quized people on whether a selection of imperfect-looking foods were safe to eat. Items included parmesan speckled with white crystals, a tomato with cracking scars and a very brown banana.


We had a great time at the fair! If you’re planning a community event and would like to include a display like the one we offered at the State Fair, please reach out to dcfoodrecovery@gmail.com. We’d love to work with you!

Special thanks to working group board member Josh Etim who helped make sure everything went well and to Amanda Joy Photographics for providing the photos in this post. 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

A 2018 Win! DC’s Food Recovery Working Group Food Waste Successfully Lobbies to Save Good Food!


DC’s Food Recovery Working Group (FRWG) is celebrating the passage of DC’s Save Good Food Act!

On Tuesday, October 16th, the DC Council unanimously passed the bill and in November, with no objection from DC Mayor Muriel Bowser, the bill became law. This bill provides new incentives that promote and facilitate food recovery efforts in DC by providing tax incentives to DC residents and businesses who donate food to those in need.  

The act will also help clarify some of DC’s confusing and strict food labeling laws and keep good food out of the landfill. The bill has broad support from DC businesses, non-profits, and residents.

Ona Balkus, DC’s Acting Food Policy Director, believes this law will benefit District residents: “This bill will encourage more DC businesses and residents to donate healthy food to those in need, keep good food out of the landfill, and clarify confusing laws around food donation. It’s a significant step in helping DC become a national leader in sustainability.”

Members of the District’s Food Recovery Working Group (FRWG) lobbied the DC Council to move the Save Good Food Amendment Act forward.  In addition to a petition and a Twitter campaign, in June, a coalition of food recovery advocates visited Councilmembers to garner support for the bill.  Seylou, a DC bakery that regularly donates food through Food Rescue US, provided leftover baked goods for the effort.  

FRWG’s lobbying efforts paid off and in late September, the bill passed out of the Council’s Finance and Revenue Committee. Once out of that Committee, the bill moved forward quickly. Amy Kelley, Policy lead for FRWG notes, “Our work on this bill shows how local action can lead to positive change.  We had a strong and diverse coalition that supported this legislation. We advocated strongly in favor of this bill, and we’re thrilled that it passed.”

Interested in becoming involved in the DC FRWG? Contact Josh Singer at dcfoodrecovery@gmail.com.  Want to become a Food Waste Warrior by helping to transport good food around DC? Contact Kate Urbank of Food Rescue US in DC at kate@foodrescue.us.

10 ways to reduce food waste in Washington, DC

Please note, the following post originally appeared on the website of the School of International Service at American University. It’s available here.

By Lesly Baesens

Approximately 40 percent of food produced each year in the US is wasted, from farmers discarding part of their crops due to supermarket demand for aesthetically pleasing produce to consumer over-reliance on expiration dates. The resources and human labor necessary to grow, transport, and process food that will never be consumed have negative environmental, social, and economic repercussions. Notably, food rotting in landfills emits methane, a major contributor to climate change.

Federally, there are no laws, incentives, or enforceable requirements to reduce food waste. However, cities and states have stepped up and made pledges to reduce food waste. Washington, DC, aims to reduce food waste with the long-term goal of establishing curbside organic waste pick-up for composting. While preferable to sending food waste to landfill, composting should be a second-to-last resort as the resources necessary to produce the food have already been expanded.


Salmon belly with pickled collard stems by Teaism. This dish was created to use ingredients that might otherwise go to waste. Urging more restaurants to showcase how they reduce waste, is one of Lesly Baesen’s top 10 recommendations for reducing food waste in DC. This dish was created as part of the RescueDish initiative.  (Photos by Amanda Joy Photographics)

I recently submitted my paper Leading by Example: 20 Ways the Nation’s Capital Can Reduce Food Waste to the DC government. This paper explores the ways DC can comprehensively tackle food waste. To develop these suggestions, I spoke with and included the input of city government staff, civil society, and private sector food waste stakeholders. Here are ten of the most critical recommendations for reducing food waste in the District:


Having a specific target could help the city move beyond its compost-focused waste reduction strategy and address food waste more holistically by considering source reduction and reuse measures, such as donating food to food banks.


There currently are no requirements for retailers to publicly report the amount of food they trash. Bringing transparency to the amount of food discarded would incentivize retailers to waste less.


DC could require grocery stores to donate unsold food, just as France did on a national scale in 2016.


There are several models DC could use to run a consumer education campaign. For example, engaging residents on social media, collaborating with retailers to provide shoppers with recipes on how to use leftovers, or through direct engagement at city events.


The lack of a reliable food pick-up system can prevent businesses from donating their excess food. DC could increase food rescue organizations’ capacity by connecting them with food donors and with volunteers who can help transport donated food.


DC should encourage innovative business models that improve food access while reducing food waste. For example, grants could be awarded to businesses that are proposing new and innovative ways of reducing food waste, such as working with local area food banks to start an at-home food distribution system for low income residents.


DC should create an interactive, consumer-friendly website dedicated to combating food waste. This website would serve a variety of purposes for both businesses and individual consumers, such as featuring local businesses participating in food-waste reduction efforts and providing consumers with ideas they can implement in their own lives.


Restaurants have a lot to gain from wasting less food. Restaurants could save an estimated $1.6 billion annually by adopting food waste reduction measures. DC could provide them with a brochure highlighting the economic benefits of and methods for food waste reduction specific to the industry.


The DC Food Recovery Working Group (FRWG) organizes an annual “RescueDish DC” event, which invites chefs to make creative dishes with “castoff” ingredients. To increase the number of chefs that showcase their talent and creativity, DC could consider partnering with FRWG to give RescueDish DC more visibility. Such an event would not just give these restaurants recognition, but also allow them to think of new and inventive ways to cook with unused food.


DC could provide a retail-specific checklist of items to reduce waste. Retailers who fill the greatest number of checklist items could be featured on social media, as well as be provided with a special logo that they could display in stores, in circulars, and online.

Mayor Muriel Bowser should consider implementing some of these recommendations, as they would align DC with other US municipalities in addressing food waste. Implementing them all could turn DC into a model of food waste reduction both in the US and internationally. At the same time, these recommendations could save the city money, create jobs, improve food security, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This in turn would contribute to reaching DC’s goal of being the nation’s most sustainable city.

DC compost visionary named Echoing Green Fellow

Screen Shot 2018-11-06 at 7.36.43 PM.png

Photo by Max Van Praag


In Jeffrey Neal’s vision, organic waste doesn’t need to be trucked far away, but instead can be composted in alleys and other spaces just behind the restaurants, homes and businesses that generate it.

In 2014, he started Loop Closing, a DC company that sets up special on-site compost systems that promise to be compact, sealed against pests and easy to use. To truly “close the loop,” the units generate nutrient-rich compost for urban gardens and the farms that feed the city.

The concept is catching on; this summer, Neal was awarded a prestigious Echoing Green fellowship, which provides two years of seed-stage funding and strategic support for social change leaders. Echoing Green selected 35 new fellows in 2018 and is providing more than $4.6 million in funds.

Neal is in good company. Fellows come from regions across the world and projects range from an app facilitating remote translations for refugees to technology to help Indian waste pickers get fair-trade rates to recycle plastic.

“The fellowship is very empowering,” he said, noting that the leadership and development support has been a tremendous help. With the fellowship helping to cover some living expenses, he said he’s able to focus on the technical side of his business, fund raising and building the team.

Neal, an early member of the DC Food Recovery Working Group, spent 24 years as an engineer with the U.S. Navy Civil Engineer Corps. As he worked on projects around the world, he noticed that there were limited options for sustainably disposing of food scraps. In 2014 he got involved in composting and soon after that, Loop Closing was born.

If you’d like to talk to Neal about setting up a system at your workplace or housing complex, you can reach him at jeffrey@loopclosing.com.

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 EatOrToss.com, “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.