A groundbreaking study of farming practices in the nation’s breadbasket of Northern and Central California shows that after harvesting, there are tons of food left over to rot in the fields while Northern California families are going hungry.
“We were really astounded,” said lead researcher Dr. Gregory Baker, Executive Director of the Center for Food Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Santa Clara University.
Baker told CBS SF BayArea that when it comes to food waste, most research focuses on what happens after the harvest: in the home, the grocery store, or restaurant.
“So we thought, well, what don’t we go out and actually measure what’s left in farmers field,” said Baker.
Baker’s team surveyed over 140 different fields, and a few dozen farmers in Northern and Central California. The focus was on 20 different hand-picked crops, including lettuce and tomatoes.
Generally speaking, here’s how it worked: as a farm crew harvested a field, the research team followed, collecting all the edible produce left behind.
“Then they would bring them in. They would classify the unharvested produce to whether it might be too small, too big, not ripe enough, too ripe, some kind of defects and then we would weigh them,” detailed Baker.
The study period was for two harvests in 2016 and 2017. After crunching the numbers and studying the details, the results were staggering.
“An amazing amount of produce was left in the fields,” said Baker.
The loss was roughly five tons per acre – roughly one-third of what’s grown – that remained in the field after harvest, left to rot.
Even the growers were surprised. The food loss at the farm level exceeded their estimates by 157 percent.