Dining Service has one of the toughest jobs on campus. Producing enough food to feed the campus comes with many challenges, one of which is what to do with all the food waste that inevitably piles up when cooking on such a large scale.

This is where Mike Brooks, a local farmer, comes into the picture. Every day, he drives to Bowdoin in his truck and picks up somewhere between 10 and 15 50-gallon buckets of food scraps which he feeds to his cows and pigs. Brooks estimated that he removes about one ton of food waste each day. 

In taking away food waste for free, Brooks saves the College around $400-$560 per week in waste removal costs and tipping fees. Aside from being advantageous for Bowdoin, Brooks himself reaps the benefit of a significant reduction in his grain bill, which would amount to hundreds of dollars per day without alternate food sources. 

Lester Prue, the unit manager at Moulton, explained how significant that benefit is for the College. 

“The waste removal costs... are astronomical, and whatever we can do to reduce this is helpful,” Prue said. It “helps out the College and helps out the farmer, so it’s a win-win hopefully.”
However, Brooks still feels the College could do more composting. He especially feels that Thorne is not giving him as much as they could be. 

“Whoever is in charge [at Thorne] does not try,” said Brooks. “Over here [at Moulton] they try real hard. If they would start recycling to where they should be, I have a bigger truck I’d love to use.”

However, Mark Dickey, unit manager at Thorne, said that with the number of people Thorne feeds, he doesn’t think Brooks would be able to handle the increase.

“I’m feeding a thousand people [at dinner], if Mike is picking up fourteen bags right now and I’m giving him three more a day, I’m not sure he’d be able to use all that food,” Dickey said.

Brooks consistently picks up seven to ten barrels a day from Moulton and around four from Thorne, according to Brooks and the Moulton and Thorne unit managers. 

One explanation for this discrepancy are the different methods used in the two dishrooms, according to sources in the Dining Service. At Moulton, employees carefully sort through the plates that come from students and sort items left on the plate (post-consumer waste) into organic and inorganic waste buckets. The organic waste goes to Brooks. Prue said the amount of waste Moulton is able to collect is a testament to the dedication of their staff. 

“It’s very difficult for our staff, they do their best to separate it, but it’s a hard job. A toothpick could kill a pig,” said Prue.

Christine Ridley, a dining service employee, reiterated the commitment to composting at Moulton. 

“We do the dishroom itself I’m gonna say four [food scrap barrels] a day at least,” said Ridley. “And the salad room, they do not throw away anything. Anything those pigs can eat goes in.”

Thorne uses a different system entirely. In the dishroom there, food waste, along with the occasional napkin, is flushed into a pulping machine, which compresses it, removing 80 percent of the water, before grinding it into small, rice-like pellets, which are then thrown away. 

Brooks says he does not take these pellets because he can’t count on them being clean. 

“I’ve taken it before and pulled chunks of glass out of it,” said Brooks. “That happened a couple times that I took it and I lost a couple pigs...They get the scent of that food, that glass, and they just chomp into it...It shreds their innards and they bleed to death.”

Dickey and Associate Director of Dining Ken Cardone and Dickey both said that the glass likely had not come out of the pulper but rather as a result of a staff member putting inorganic waste in a barrel that they shouldn’t have. With waste going to both the pigs and the dumpster in similar-looking 30 gallon buckets, the mistake can have unfortunate consequences.

“We immediately stopped giving him the pulping material at that time,” said Dickey. “We don’t want to hurt these pigs, we want to feed them.” 

There is no official contract between the College and Brooks, but Brooks claims that in initial discussions in March 2008, the College told him that it was planning on buying two to four pigs per year from him. As of now, Bowdoin has only purchased two. The College has no obligation to buy Brooks’ pigs, but Brooks still feels he is not getting everything he signed up for. 

“If Mike has any questions about that he needs to talk to us about it,” said Cardone. “We’ve been doing this since 2008.”

“Six years and that’s the first I’ve heard about that,” Dickey added.

Brooks also wishes the College would contribute to the fuel costs he incurs driving to and from his farm 12 miles away, pointing to the money he saves the College in waste removal. 

Though the arrangement may not be perfect, Cardone said he feels the agreement is fair and mutually beneficial. 

“It’s a trade-off: we supply the barrels and the back and forth. We wash and sanitize them and put them back in use and he hauls them away every day, which is great because we don’t have to store them,” Cardone said. “It’s been a successful arrangement with Mike, and it’s been a good one; it’s being put to use.”