— Ellie Vanasse, Crow River Food Council Member

If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re a fan of buying local. My journey to loving local food began with gardening and canning with my mom, but it was working at Common Ground Garden, a CSA farm, in college that truly solidified my passion for local food. I felt so connected to every vegetable we grew, every person who visited, every flower we picked. It felt like home. This experience also led to an interest in low-waste living, and I’ve been finding ways to decrease my waste since then.

Many recognize the stereotypical zero-waste image: a year’s worth of trash fitting into a pint mason jar. Maybe that’s something you’re striving for. Maybe you think that’s insane. I fall somewhere in the middle of that spectrum; I want to live with intention and care, but I don’t want to create unnecessary stress or pressure. Here are five ways I’ve found to feasibly decrease my waste:

  1. Bring your reusable bags
    I leave several bags in my car so I’m never without. They come in handy at the grocery store, farmers market, thrift store, or even when I’m cleaning out my car.
  2. Freeze in reusable containers
    Freezing is a great way to preserve summer produce for the long winter months. But so many people freeze in plastic bags! I’ve converted to mason jars, silicone bags, steel containers, and other reusable food storage containers.
  3. Make pesto with veggie stems and tops
    Kale stems, carrot tops, parsley, basil, celery tops, kohlrabi greens, beet greens, and turnip greens all combine in a food processor with oil, walnuts/cashews/almonds, and parmesan cheese to make pesto that I freeze in small glass jars to use throughout the year. It’s great on pasta, but I also love pesto on pizza, roasted veggies, soup, and toast.
  4. Save veggie scraps to make broth
    As I cook, scraps from carrots, celery, onions, garlic, sweet peppers, herbs, mushrooms, and zucchini go into a bag in the freezer. Every three months or so, I dump everything in a stock pot, cover it with water, and simmer for four hours to make vegetable stock. And if I have some chicken bones, those go in as well to make chicken stock.
  5. Find a way to compost
    I live in an apartment, which makes backyard composting impractical (if not impossible). But, I found an alternative! A 7-gallon pail on my balcony collects scraps. When it’s full, I dump it at the city compost site. The pail probably takes 2-3 months to fill (it fills a little faster during the summer), so it really is minimal effort.

Note on COVID-19: For some, the pandemic has created more time to explore things like cooking, composting, and other low-waste living techniques. For others, the increased stress of this time has greatly limited the capacity to think of things beyond daily life. Or maybe that stress was high even before the pandemic. Care for the mental and emotional health of yourself and loved ones is a priority. If you are feeling overwhelmed and in need of mental health support for yourself or a loved one, call the Minnesota Warmline at 651-288-0400 or text “Support” to 85511.

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