Nate Johnson '09 may be the only Bowdoin student to have ever lost his campus job to a pig.
Johnson, who was responsible for transporting and composting food waste from the Thorne and Moulton kitchens, was let go after the College's composter broke down over Spring Break. But instead of sending the waste to a landfill, Sustainable Bowdoin and the Dining Service found a new destination for the food: a cow and pig farm minutes away in the town of Bowdoin, Maine.
Every day around 5 p.m., Darlene Brooks, wife of farm owner Mike Brooks, drives a pick-up truck to Thorne and Moulton dining halls and picks up anywhere between two and seven 15-gallon containers of food waste. She then drives the twenty-some miles to the farm, where Mike shovels the food waste into pigpens and cow troughs.
Coordinator of Sustainable Bowdoin Keisha Payson said the fact that Brooks works in Brunswick makes the food pick-up "a no-brainer." If not for the commute Darlene Brooks makes every day, the free pig food would not be worth the trip, especially with fuel prices rising.
Mike Brooks said that the free food waste from Bowdoin makes raising pigs economically viable. He estimated that raising pigs on food waste instead of grain saves him 600 dollars per pig. In addition, Brooks can use the pigs, which love to root in the mud, to till and fertilize his fields instead of a tractor.
According to Brooks, the pigs prefer the food waste from Thorne, while the cows love Moulton's. Brooks said the pigs won't eat large citrus peels, and the food waste processor at Thorne chops up the peels to a size the pigs don't notice. The cows are not as picky and eat the less-processed waste from Moulton.
Brooks said that acquiring animal feed from institutional kitchens is not new for him. In addition to Bowdoin, Brooks receives stale and rotten food from a local soup kitchen, the B&M bean cannery in Portland, and various bakeries. "The farmers who are smart enough to make these connections do," he said.
With so many food choices, the animals naturally develop favorites. Brooks says that the cows are fond of bread and "really love their greens."
"The only thing they love more than bread is Frosty's donuts," he said. "They'd stampede for Frosty's donuts."
Brooks and his animals are not the only ones profiting from the exchange. Ken Cardone, the associate director of the Dining Service, said that Bowdoin saves money because the food waste comes out of the garbage that, with the composter broken, they would have had to pay to send to the landfill. Before Bowdoin began sending food waste to the farm, all plate scrapings, or post-consumer waste, went to the landfill, as the composter could only handle kitchen scraps. "Having the pig farm is a much better alternative than having it go to the landfill," said Payson.
Cardone agreed. "The pig farm is wonderful," he said.
Payson said that based on food audit records, approximately 265 pounds of post-consumer waste per person was being thrown out each semester. Although having the animals eat the food waste is a win-win situation, Payson stressed the importance of trying to reduce food waste altogether.
Cardone and Brooks are hoping that they can negotiate a sale of the Bowdoin-fed pork and beef to the Dining Service. Cardone thinks that buying the meat, and advertising how it was fed, will "complete the circle."