No carrot, apple or French toast stick goes to waste at Bel Air Elementary School in New Brighton. If the kids don't eat it, the pigs will.
The school is one of more than 220 sites — including other schools, hospitals, grocery stores and prisons — that asks people to carefully sort food scraps into bins, which are then picked up by trucks and taken to Barthold Farms in St. Francis. There, the leftovers are heated to 212 degrees to kill off any bacteria, then served to over 2,000 pigs.
"It's really good because we can help save the environment and feed the pigs at the same time," said Albert Davis Jr., a third-grader at Bel Air.
The Food to Hog program, now in all of Mounds View Public Schools' elementary schools and middle schools, also saves the district money. Though Barthold Farms charges a fee to pick up the food waste, that fee is tax-exempt — not subject to the 70% combined state and county tax that the school district pays on garbage hauling and disposal services. Overall, the district's trash costs decrease about 8% when food and beverage are kept out of the garbage stream.
Barthold Farms also picks up food scraps from schools in the Stillwater, White Bear Lake, Orono, Eden Prairie and Roseville districts. About a quarter of the farm's food recycling comes from schools.
"It's really a win-win," said Heather Schmidt, the nutrition services supervisor for the Mounds View school district, which plans to expand the program into high schools soon. "And it's been amazing to see the buy-in from the kids. If you give them the opportunity to do good and help save the Earth, they want to take it."
The schools use a system of three color-coded bins in the cafeteria: one for trash, one for recycling and one for food scraps destined for the farm. Occasionally, a custodian has to reach into the food bin to pull out a stray milk carton or yogurt container, but overall the method is preferred by most custodians.
That's because they can simply roll the bin of food and milk to a shed behind the school, where it gets picked up at least once a week.
"It's way better all around for my crew," said Todd Hansen, the building management supervisor for Mounds View schools. They no longer have to lift heavy, leaking bags of food and milk, he said, and the number of bags headed to the landfill has been cut in half.
Barthold Farms has partnered with schools since the early 1990s, said Danielle Barthold, the farm's business manager. She married into the family and said she was at first "flabbergasted" to learn about the food recycling program — and just how much pigs can eat.
Trucks pick up about 150 to 200 cans of food a day, and a full bin can weigh almost 200 pounds. That means the farm processes up to 40,000 pounds of pig food daily.
Before the food scraps are "cooked," farm staff sift through them to look for pieces of garbage or non-food items. Anything the pigs don't eat (Barthold said they typically pick around orange peels and sweet peppers) is spread over the fields.
"I think it's really important that these students get to be a part of that cycle of recycling food back to the ground," Barthold said. "Plus, it's fun for them to think about feeding a bunch of pigs."