California Ag: Tackling Food Waste

In late summer 2018, 11 students from 11 different universities traveled with Planet Forward to Woodland, California, for a storytelling expedition about food waste reduction.

You may have heard the Food and Agriculture Organization statistic that roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted. But did you know the FAO also reports that fruits and vegetables have the highest waste rates of any food? Or that consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa? 

It's obvious that if we want to feed the planet, we need to find solutions to food waste in every step of the food production process, from grower to consumer.

On this trip, Planet Forward students visited a tomato production plant, a research farm, and a university market garden and biodigester. We focused more on the production and retail level of food waste reduction since we, as consumers, have more control over our own food usage or waste. But when it comes to big — and small — agriculture? We wanted to learn, and share, what the industry is doing in this area — and give the Planet Forward audience an inside look at the industry that is feeding the world.

So why tomatoes? Tomatoes are a $1.05 billion industry in California and was one of the top-10 producing commodities of 2017, according to the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA). 

Connecting the dots from seed to can of tomatoes, was one of our goals. (Hint: It involves a LOT of people!)

In a recent press release, CDFA Secretary Karen Ross said, “Throughout California we have amazing stories of local farmers and ranchers using innovation and technology to increase their connection to consumers. ...

"Farm to fork has engaged consumers like never before...”

We learned this desire to discover where our food comes from, and consumer demand for specific products and types of products, has a powerful impact on what seeds are developed each season, what is grown, and where these food items eventually are sold.

The stories from our trip are told by students with diverse backgrounds — some who had never even been to California, let alone on a large-scale production farm. And we cover everything from the challenges of sustainable food production and food waste reduction in communities to improving ag industry communication with consumers and whether GMOs can help create sustainable food systems.

We hope you enjoy these stories. Please give your favorites a "thumbs up" and share on social media!

While you're on Instagram, please check out our Instastories from the trip, led by Planet Forward Senior Correspondent Katherine Baker.

Editor's note: This series on food waste is generously sponsored by Bayer. All editorial content is created independently. To discover more experiential learning opportunities, email

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Hub Content

UC Davis biodigester

The UC Davis Renewable Energy Anaerobic Digester, which officially opened Earth Day, April 22, 2014, converts organic waste from campus and other sources into clean energy for the campus electrical grid. The anaerobic digestion technology used in the facility was invented by UC Davis professor Ruihong Zhang and licensed to Sacramento-based CleanWorld. (UC Davis)

Planet Forward Senior Correspondent | University of Wisconsin-Madison
Next in our Tackling Food Waste series: What if you could take food waste and give it another life — or two? That's the idea behind the biodigester facility at UC Davis. University of Wisconsin-Madison's Peter Jurich reports.
George Washington University
Next in Tackling Food Waste: GW's Ellen Wang asks us to look at our own food waste. We might think that the garbage bin is the end of the story when it comes to food you're not going to eat – but there's more to to it than that.

John Purcell, head of Vegetables R&D for Bayer, was leading the conversation on plant breeding on a tour of Bayer's research facility in Woodland, Calif., in August. (Planet Forward)

Stevenson University
Next in our series: Stevenson University's Quinn Luethy looks deeper into how we're going to feed our planet's growing population. Solutions include the development of crops that can withstand the challenges of climate change.

(Photos by Katherine Baker/Columbia University)

Planet Forward Senior Correspondent | Cornell University
Next in our Tackling Food Waste series: Any food discussion inevitably involves GMOs. Columbia University's Katherine Baker spoke with an organic farmer and plant pathologist/geneticist to find out more.
Planet Forward Correspondent | University of Nebraska-Lincoln
Next in our series: Photojournalist James Wooldridge takes a peek into the diversity of form among California's farms, which points out the intersection between art and science in agriculture.

Planet Forward students toured Bayer's research gardens as a part of our trip. But we happened to visit when the facility was open to everyone through an annual event called "Field Days," where they focus on communicating about agriculture to both educate and demystify the process. (Planet Forward)

Kansas State University
Sustainability and food used to be separate conversations. In the next story in the series, Kansas State's Olivia Bergmeier explores how sustainable ag is now a joint conversation — and both consumers and producers are talking together.

In mid-August, the sunflowers are nearly ready for harvest at Schreiner Farms in Woodland, Calif. (Dani Huffman/Kenyon College)

Kenyon College
Next in our Tackling Food Waste series: Kenyon College student farmer Dani Huffman looks at the pros and cons of traditional and organic farming - and the issue of sustainable agriculture. Turns out it isn't as black and white as it seems.

A tractor sits idle on Eric Schreiner's family farm. Schreiner Farms grows tomatoes for The Morning Star Company, which produces products for companies like Campbell's and Heinz. (Brigit Kenney/Eckerd College)

Eckerd College
In the next story in our Tackling Food Waste series, Eckerd College student Brigit Kenney looks at the broad connection between food production to actually getting that food on our plates. It's a much larger process than she expected to see.
Farmer in a tractor
Texas Tech University
Taking a look into making sustainable agriculture practices in California's Central Valley, it's obvious that farmers and seed suppliers have their work cut out for them.