Reducing Waste Grocery Shopping at the Co-op

Every day is Earth Day at Valley Natural Foods. As far back as 1977, the people who started our co-op had that goal in mind and over the decades we continue to strive for ways to reduce waste. In the beginning, we built our business around a bulk department that offered food in the amounts a person would use with less packaging. Our bulk department thrives today and is a great way for households to reduce waste, especially if shoppers commit to bringing in their own containers.

From an operational standpoint, our co-op has made great strides as a business. In 2007, Valley Natural Foods participated in Dakota Electric’s Rate 70 program and installed a backup generator. Not only does this reduce the co-op’s electric rate, it also reduces the store’s connection load during times of peak energy demand. When the co-op expanded in 2008, other energy reduction measures were upgraded to reduce the store’s energy usage. This included refrigeration, on-demand water heaters, lighting and the installation of a cardboard compactor.

The co-op’s fresh foods manager, Orlando Haripal, is also in charge of waste reduction at the co-op. When it looked like the amount of garbage was increasing, Haripal invested why. He found that the fresh departments were contributing to the waste. He worked with a local homeless shelter for women and children, Dakota Woodlands, and found an outlet for the consumable waste. He also partnered with Beth and Tom Kackman who organize a community garden at the International Outreach Church in Burnsville. The Kackman’s need compost, so Haripal and Tom Kackman came up with a system to turn non-consumable waste into garden fodder.

The search to find ways to reduce waste is as endless as creativity itself. Recently, a new hire in the meat department questioned the waste from cutting and grinding our own meat onsite. He suggested to Haripal that the co-op consider creating a new saleable product—smoked dog bones. Since we already work with a local business to smoke our own fresh brats, bacon and hot dogs, it was a natural fit to smoke the waste bones from beef. Just in time for Earth Day, Valley Natural Foods now produces and sells smoked dog bones. Made from the same local beef that carries our Down in the Valley label, you can be assured that these are quality dog bones, not just waste.

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