OTTUMWA --- Parents will tell you: They hate to see kids waste food. A gardner named Scott Koepke feels the same way.
“First, let’s get our food to people who are going to eat it,” he said. “It hurts me to see kids in the schools throw away an entire tray of food.”
Koepke was in Ottumwa teaching a class on composting to about a dozen people Saturday at the ISU Extension office. Extension, Ottumwa Wapello Recycling Center and the Solid Waste Commission brought Koepke to town from his office at New Pioneer Food Co-op; he’s an educator for their Soilmates program in Iowa City. Local organizers knew what the garden expert meant when he talked about wasted food, which he talked about even before he mentioned composting.
“Up to 25 percent of the food we buy in the grocery store ends up in the trash,” said Janice Bain, Ottumwa recycling coordinator.
That, added Jen Daugherty, the Wapello County Extension office horticulturist, is in a county where 14 percent of the people are “food insecure,” not being sure they’ll get a meal that day. More than half the children in Ottumwa schools are on free or reduced lunch, and for some of them, that may be their only full meal of the day.
Koepke said after working with farmers in Africa, he learned first hand not to take food for granted. In fact, waste, to him, is partly an ethical issue. But it’s also an economic one: He creates his own nutrient-rich fertilizer and soil to help grow the vegetables in his garden. And one of the ways he does that is by throwing food onto his compost pile.
“When we can’t get our food into tummies, let’s get it into the ground and make organic matter for [assisting in the process of] growing food. Composting creates food for food. And it’s [basically] free.”