Feeding the Hungry, Reducing Food Waste, Strengthening Community Impact

by Sarah Buckman, Outreach Coordinator

How does Common Ground reduce food waste and feed our hungry neighbors, all while increasing support for local food pantries and social welfare organizations? We'll tell you in one word: SHRINK!

"Shrink" is co-op lingo for food waste, culled food, or perishable food that just expired. This could be a torn package, a bruised apple, or an expired can of beans. Unlike the co-op, in many grocery stores the food is thrown out, put in the dumpster outside, and then thoroughly compressed within the dumpster for no one to be able to sort through it or dumpster dive.

Here at the co-op, we do things differently and we've had a large community impact! Because we have high standards for the foods that we sell, we donate any food or item that doesn't meet our standards for purchase (i.e. bruised fruits). For many years we have worked with Daily Bread Soup Kitchen, Austin's Place, and Courage C onnection to pick up our shrink food items. For the last couple of years, we've noticed that many food pantries that were state supported were not receiving state funding, due to the lack of an Illinois State budget. Many food pantries that have continued were able to because they were privately run, like Daily Bread Soup Kitchen.

Over the last few months, we have added on some of the newest local food pantries in Champaign-Urbana to our Shrink Receiving List. DIBBS, a startup created by two UIUC students,  Kathleen Hu and Sohinee Oswal, is also dedicated to reducing food waste. They've helped us connect with Jubilee Cafe and Uni Place (University Place Christian Church), organizations that were feeding hungry neighbors and were in search of more fresh produce to incorporate into their community meals. Kathleen and Sohinee reached out the co-op last year to see how we all could coordinate to improve our relationships with local food pantries and divert still-edible (but un-sellable) food from the landfill. Hundreds of pounds of culled food have been diverted, just through Jubilee Cafe and Uni Place. A special shoutout to all of our local organizations who are dedicated to come pick up culled food each week.

Jubilee Cafe is the newest food pantry in town accepting food donations and is  run by volunteers, many of whom are co-op owners. Volunteers help with such events as Jubilee's Monday night free dinner, from 5:00-6:30 pm at Community United Church (805 S 6th St, Champaign). Jubilee Cafe has taken culled foods, many locally grown and ripe, to prepare for these dinners.  Many times food pantries are at a loss for produce or organic foods, so this has been a great exchange for everyone involved. University Place Christian Church also hosts a free meal every Wednesday, around 6 pm.

Did you also know that we have composting stations for our customers but also for each fresh department at the co-op, like Produce, Deli, Kitchen, and Bakery? Not only do we divert food from the landfill but we divert food scraps, too! We work with farmers who are invested in picking up compost on a daily basis. Compost items consist of coffee grounds, peeled potato skins, our deli plates, and more. Our compost feeds hogs and chickens at Old Dixie Pastures in Fithian, IL and is converted into healthy soil at The Mulberries Farm and Orchard in Champaign. 

Common Ground is dedicated to reducing food waste. We're thankful for our local food pantries, composters, and DIBBS who collaborate with us to make our community better fed and more sustainable.