At a small, quiet farm on the northern border of San Diego County, Kenny Feitz plants rows of bright red strawberries starting in October each year. Feitz might be the world’s biggest fan of strawberries. He’s just one piece of California’s enormous agriculture industry. The Golden State produces more than 80% of the country’s tomatoes, apricots, avocados, dates, figs, kiwis, olives, plums, prunes, raisins, blackberries, raspberries, tangerines, wine grapes and strawberries.
And of all that, Feitz says strawberries are one of the most perishable, delicate foods to grow. Every year is a gamble, and some years he’s just happy to earn back the money he invested in that year’s crop.
But many of his strawberries wind up getting trashed. In the U.S., more than a third of edible food is tossed, and this happens most with fresh produce. Wasted food comprises almost a quarter of landfills. There it decomposes and releases 8% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Landfill waste starts on the farm — because the strawberries have to win a beauty contest. Anything that’s too big, too small, too weirdly-shaped, or not red enough doesn’t get picked.
He says somewhere around 50-60% of the fruit a plant produces gets sold as whole strawberries. Another 20% might not look perfect but is safe to eat. Those get turned into jams and frozen berry smoothie medleys. The rest get left in the furrows and plowed under to feed the next generation of strawberries.