Turning vegetables into bacon

SUGAR BUSH – Students at Paul Smith’s College have found a way to turn vegetables into bacon.

It isn’t a new genetics course or some kind of strange magic, it’s simply a way to put kitchen food scraps to use.

The college recently started donating several five-gallon buckets of pre-consumer food scraps from its culinary labs to Atlas Hoofed it Farm in Sugar Bush every week.

The farm’s owners, Sara and Dave Burke, are Paul Smith’s graduates who now raise animals for meat, which they sell to members of their community-supported agriculture program, to local restaurants and at farmer’s markets and local grocery stores.

The Burkes feed the colorful kitchen scraps to their 50 pigs, which enjoy a smorgasbord of items that can include carrots, melons, eggplant and pastries.

There are some guidelines set forth by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and Markets regarding what can be fed to animals raised to be sold as meat. Meat is forbidden, as is any food that has come into contact with humans unless it has first been cooked at a high temperature, a process the Burkes find too cost prohibitive and time consuming.

Sara Burke explained that there is research that indicates certain viruses could potentially be spread across species, so the intent of the guidelines is to safeguard against such contamination.

“If you’re feeding them plate scraps, the theory is that someone could have had some disease that could be passed onto the pig,” Burke said. “The pig could then give that back to humans, but it usually has mutated and become worse for everyone involved.”

Like humans, pigs require a well-balanced diet to be healthy.

“We try to eyeball it, so if they get a bunch of breads in the morning, they’ll get a bunch of vegetables at night,” Burke said. “We look at it like we’re dealing with a toddler, where they’re going to eat carrots one day because that’s just what they’ve decided they’re going to eat. That’s why we try to look at the feeding throughout the week to make sure they’re getting the full complement of nutrients.”

The idea to make use of the pre-consumer scraps came from baking and pastry arts major Rebecca Bingham.

“This year I had to take a lab as a baking student, and I realized how much food waste we have in our labs,” Bingham said. “In the beginning of lab we’d just have one bin on the table to keep your table clean. Anything you didn’t use, like the peel off a potato or a wrapper, would all go into the same bin.”

Once Bingham realized that the contents of the bin were being tossed instead of composted, she decided to take action and brought the issue to the attention of Kate Glenn, the college’s AmeriCorp Sustainability Coordinator.

“Now we have two bins in the labs,” Bingham said. “One is for compost, and the other is for garbage.”

Glenn said the school’s staff also appreciated the move. Since organic waste typically contains a lot of water, a full 32-gallon garbage can makes for a backbreaking trash run.

“My hope is, maybe by next year, we could have zero organic waste,” Glenn said.

The effort to use the kitchen scraps is part of a larger movement initiated by the school’s Farm to Table Committee, whose purpose is to support the development of a sustainable food program at the college. In short, the closer to campus the college gets its food from, the better.

“There is a student right now who is inventorying what percentage of our food comes from within 250 miles of the campus,” Glenn said. “For the most part, it’s dairy products and some of the alcohol served at the campus bar.”

Meanwhile, fair-trade coffee, sustainable seafood and organic food will also be researched and inventoried.

After the inventory is complete, the committee will collect online surveys and input from students, faculty and staff and use it to develop a campus-wide community food ethic, which will in turn be used for developing new purchasing guidelines for the dining hall.

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or skittle@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.