Upon entering Secchiaroli’s gravel driveway, the first thing that struck me was the smell. It turns out that rotting food, flies, and mud are all part of a healthy atmosphere for the 300-400 pigs that call the farm home. For the past 60 years, Connecticut College has maintained a food waste partnership with Secchiaroli Piggery on 62 Miner Lane in Waterford. Three times a week, Conn sends 4 barrels of food waste, weighing in at 400 pounds each, to be sorted and processed before the pigs eat what we couldn’t.
To be candid, 4,500 pounds of wasted food a week is immensely concerning to me. Though this statistic is a culmination of food scraped off plates at Harris as well as the smaller dining halls, this volume of leftovers means that each student at Conn is responsible for producing over two pounds of food waste a week. Despite my personal criticism of our waste as a college, farmer Hazel Secchiaroli had a more optimistic outlook. She countered, “[It’s] not that Connecticut College is being wasteful. You’re going to have surplus, you’re going to have excess. It’s the nature of the business. It’s what you’re doing with that surplus that makes a difference.”
If we focus on what we are doing with our waste, rather than how much of it we are in fact producing, Conn’s sustainability is relatively successful. Assistant Director of Sustainability Margaret Bounds commented, “Food waste is a real problem. When we think about ways to get rid of food there’s the landfill option, which is obviously problematic, and then the other two major options are either food for animals or composting.” According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the best tactic for managing food waste is to produce less of it, followed by feeding hungry people, feeding hungry animals, then composting and finally sending waste to the landfill or incinerator. What Secchiaroli and her husband Jonathan do is in fact the last option of the food waste model that qualifies as waste avoidance, rather than waste management. They are cutting down on waste rather than simply repurposing it.
Additionally, sending our scraps to Secchiaroli Piggery costs almost half as much as sending them to a landfill. Hazel explained, “We’re providing a service, so just like when people pay for their regular garbage to be taken away through taxes or pay for the Waterford utility commission… it’s a service because you’re disposing of something.” My original assumption was that relocating our waste in order to feed the pigs would not cost Conn at all. On the surface, it seems like a fair trade. However, I underestimated the operating, fuel, labor, and insurance costs associated with maintaining a farm.
This leads me into a point about our ability to be completely disconnected from the meals we eat at Conn. I’ve worked in gardens and farms and still am not aware of all of the inner workings of how our food is produced, processed, and distributed. Yet, as the American Farmland Trust reminds us, without farms there is no food. I think sending our scraps to Secchiaroli Piggery, a local, environmentally aware business that cares about its animals, is one way that we are attempting to acknowledge our waste.
Of course, the farm itself is not perfect. 80-90% of Secchiaroli farm animals go to pig roasts in Connecticut and New England. Our food scraps are essentially feeding the meat industry, which is problematic for many environmentalists who believe eating meat is unsustainable.
Despite the growing number of vegetarians, the reality is that the majority of people in the US still eat meat. Only 3.3% of the U.S. population identifies as a vegetarian. I would rather see our scraps go to a farm where market pigs are, as Secchiaroli puts it, “out wallowing in the mud,” than composted or sent to a landfill. Bounds furthers, “I think even if you went to a more humane pig farm, there would still be some feelings of discomfort… I think that because for us really the alternative is sending the food to a landfill that does balance it out for me and I think it is being used locally because we’re not transporting it a huge distance.”
Environmental concerns for the United States are massive in scale, especially under an administration which pulled out of the Paris Agreement and which has threatened not only the influence but the continued existence of the EPA. We’ve seen major storms in recent years offer a glimpse into the massive global problem that is already upon us. Though we cannot attempt to radicalize our entire system in a day, we can make small steps within our communities daily. Sending our scraps to Secchiaroli Piggery fosters a mutually beneficial relationship and is a positive aspect of Conn’s sustainability. I think it is a logical step forward in our environmental awareness and reduction of our waste.