Rodrigo Castellanos on Addressing Food Waste and Soil Degradation

Rodrigo Castellanos on Addressing Food Waste and Soil Degradation
From, by Rodrigo Castellanos

Each year, 1.3 billion tons of food waste go to landfills around the world, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) “Loss and Waste Facts Report,” while 24 billion tons of fertile soil are lost through misuse. These two challenges, food waste and soil degradation, are compounded when the world is on a clear trajectory to reach 10 billion people, most expected to be living in cities. 

As director of ZEA Hungry Goods, I believe that food waste, soil erosion, food security, and climate change are deeply interconnected problems with a common solution—the restoration of our soils. When properly treated, food waste adds organic matter to the soil. This has enormous benefits for both food production and the fight against climate change. The transformation of food waste into compost doesn't produce methane, like decomposed anaerobic food in landfills does, and it restores the capacity of the soil to capture and store carbon.  

Every year, landfills are filled with enough food to feed half the world’s population or restore millions of hectares of soil and grow even more food. This is a crazy situation. Food is supposed to feed bellies, not landfills. 

ZEA Hungry Goods is contributing to addressing these issues by using the sales of their organic fair trade products to fund composting systems in schools, community gardens, small businesses, and low-income households. Each item sold promises to transform 10 kilograms of food waste into fertile soil, which will be used in urban agriculture projects around the world to grow fresh and healthy food right in the middle of the cities.

One of the urban agriculture projects that has partnered with ZEA is Huerto Tlatelolco, based in Mexico City. Created on the site of a public housing tower damaged during the 1985 earthquake and abandoned until recently (1,650 square meters), Huerto Tlatelolco includes an edible forest with 45 tree varieties, a seed bank, and a large section of bio-intensive gardening. The main objective of the project is to involve the local community in urban agriculture related activities. Members of Huerto Tlatelolco build a sense of community ownership and engagement through workshops, school visits, volunteer programs, and events.  

ZEA worked with Huerto Tlatelolco’s founders, nonprofit Cultiva Ciudad, to improve its on-site waste management systems, including an aerobic composter and community worm farm. The organization also funds worm farms for the local community and garden volunteers. In Mexico City, Cultiva Cuidad works to attend to the urgent need for green-productive spaces and community participation. Currently, this project is transforming more than 1,500 kilograms of food waste every year into fertile soil to grow food in the middle of one of the biggest cities in the world. 

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