Asheville is the smallest of the four cities recently chosen to participate in the Southeast Regional Initiative of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Food Matters Project. And Asheville sustainability officer Amber Weaver believes the city’s previous work in identifying and addressing food waste was an asset in the application process.
“We have done a lot of work around these issues, such as two Food Waste Solutions Summits in partnership with local nonprofits and working with the county and the state, so I think that piqued NRDC’s interest in working with us,” she says. The Southeast cohort also includes Atlanta, Memphis and Orlando.
The Food Matters Project partners with cities to achieve meaningful reductions in food waste through comprehensive policies and proven programs. The pilot program was initiated in Nashville, Tenn., in 2015 and the collaboration continues as the Nashville Food Waste Initiative led by the 11-year-old nonprofit Urban Green Lab.
The first step, says Weaver, will be to establish a work plan for the city’s Office of Sustainability (no new staff will be hired). Next will be to select action items to implement based on strategies defined by the NRDC, which include setting targets, leading by example, addressing policy barriers, increasing public awareness, engaging local businesses, expanding food rescue capacity, engaging health inspectors and expanding community composting efforts.
Though the four cities will focus on some of the same strategies, Asheville has some unique operational structures, such as a county-owned and operated landfill and transfer station. There are also general COVID-related challenges to contend with, such as implementing a food waste audit at a large food consumption facility. “One of the NRDC strategies is auditing a large food arena, but how do we do that when the arena is closed?” asks Weaver. “We can spend time making a preparation plan for when we actually are able to do it. “
Throughout the 12- to 18-month working partnership, there will be monthly check-ins with the cohort as well as monthly one-on-one meetings with NRDC representatives to discuss specifics about how Asheville is working toward achieving goals.
“This initiative will help us gather information to better understand food waste reduction efforts and how we can best communicate those with both business and residential users,” Weaver says. “There has been a lot of change in leadership at the county level, which we believe offers us many opportunities to work together on creative strategies.”