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🥕A zero food waste future ♻️
What can some of the arenas, supermarkets, and restaurants in South Florida do with all their food waste? Have one female-run small business compost it and turn it into much-needed soil.
Our latest On Site video feature focuses on how one female-run small business has diverted over 30 million pounds of discarded food from our landfills. Watch here.
Register here for our ninth Climate Tech Meetup to learn more about Miami-Dade County’s federal tech hub grant.
Lanette Sobel is standing on top of a mound of discarded food, sifting through half-eaten hotdogs, peppers, whole apples, and even raw meat.
“As long as it's food, we'll take it,” she says, while tossing out plastic items, food ties, rubber bands, and other non-organics she finds.
This mound is just one of several dozen that are spread across a handful of farms in Homestead in southwestern Miami-Dade County. And it’s all ready to be composted – a process of converting organic materials into nutrient-rich soil or mulch through natural decomposition.
Sobel founded Fertile Earth Worm Farm in 2009 and picks up discarded food from establishments across South Florida. She estimates she has diverted about 30 million pounds of food waste from landfills since then. That number includes meat products such as suckling pigs and plenty of fruits and vegetables.
Composting is an important component of a sustainable future. It reduces waste that produces climate-warming gasses like methane, eases pressure on landfills, and turns discarded scraps into productive uses, such as soil or mulch. New York City passed legislation mandating composting across the city by next year, aiming to usher in an era where picking up food waste is as common as picking up trash or recycling.
For Sobel, the reason she’s been able to divert so much food waste from landfills is her focus on the larger, more recognized establishments: restaurants, supermarkets, and even sports arenas. Watch how she does it in our latest On Site video feature where we follow the female-run small business from pickup at the Kaseya Center in downtown Miami to drop off at a farm in Homestead.
Fertile Earth is seeking to do at a commercial scale what people typically do as a part-time hobby in their homes. It hopes to be a catalyst in taking composting from the margins of daily life to the mainstream where it is increasingly seen as a key tool in developing a truly circular economy across Greater Miami.
It seeks to do this by focusing on composting food waste at larger businesses, rather than residences.
Fertile Earth uses garbage trucks outfitted to handle organics, with special bins that are sealed to collect discarded food. The truck travels from Palm Beach County to Broward and then Miami-Dade, stopping at a few clients before taking the filled truck to a farm in Homestead to be composted.
Pickup locations include a few Starbucks and Sweet Green restaurants, the Pura Vidas across Miami, and other recognized brands. But her biggest clients are the Kaseya Center, home of the Miami Heat, and LoanDepot Park, the Miami Marlins ballpark.
“The sports arenas, they understand the importance of sustainability,” Sobel said, adding that the Marlins stadium was their very first – and longest – client.
The Fertile Earth truck, with its pink detailing and company logo on the side, picks up from most of the locations twice a week, so the discarded food is still fresh instead of being left to rot or the bins filled with maggots.
“We're recycling food,” she said during our interview. “We're making a new product out of something that was considered waste. It's a circular economy, the way nature intended.”
Sobel previously worked in the hospitality industry doing waste audits for clients such as hotels. After learning that the only commercial option for disposing of surplus food in South Florida was to a landfill, the former sustainability consultant turned compost ambassador created the for-profit company.
“Instead of causing issues for future generations, let’s regenerate the soil,” Sobel said, who also co-founded Fertile Earth Foundation, a nonprofit focused on compost education. “We can be more self-sufficient. And to me, it’s just a waste to send it (food) to the landfills. We’re causing a ticking time bomb for future generations. Now, it’s even more important to do the right thing.”
WHERE SOIL IS NEEDED MOST
Sobel’s main focus is to collect, transport, and compost food waste to turn it into soil. But Fertile Earth also incorporates other aspects of farming, such as producing vermicompost (or worm composting), organic fertilizers such as teas (made from earthworm poop), and soil blends for everything from the cannabis industry to raised garden beds and even grass turf.
“Out of all the places, we need soil the most,” said Sobel, pointing out how South Florida is made up mostly of Miami limestone, which doesn’t retain water or nutrients needed to grow many plants.
Meanwhile, Miami is facing a landfill crisis. A fire forced the County’s Resources Recovery Facility in Doral to shut down. It was processing more than half of our waste.
Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s Future-Ready initiative incorporates getting the County on a path to zero waste, including organic composting and mulching of tree trimmings, among other strategies.
“We’re behind the times,” Sobel said of composting in Miami-Dade County, while also noting that this delay can prove to be an economic opportunity. “There are so many people that are so much ahead of us that we can learn from and we can jump forward,” she said. “So there’s a ton of potential.”
CLIMATE TECH MEETUP
Please join us for our ninth Climate Tech Meetup. It will feature a presentation and discussion about this week’s exciting news that the U.S. Department of Commerce recognized South Florida as a Climate Resilience Hub. Learn more at our event on November 3rd by registering here.
Opportunity Miami is a platform for people passionate about Miami’s future. If you have a company or entrepreneur to suggest or an idea to share that relates to building that future, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite you to subscribe to our YouTube channel to watch our Interviews and On Site video series featuring leaders shaping Miami's future. Please also follow us on our social media channels. If you were forwarded this newsletter, you can subscribe by clicking here. And if you are new to Opportunity Miami, you can learn about our mission and work here.