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Tempe communities and kitchens partner to take the table back to the farm through new composting program

According to Feeding America, 40% of edible food is thrown out in the United States. Local First Arizona, a nonprofit organization that focuses on connecting locally-owned businesses to the community, launched the Tempe Compost Program earlier this year to help combat high rates of food waste. 

Local First Arizona has partnered with the City of Tempe, local restaurants, and Recycled City, a local food waste collection and composting company, to recycle all food waste produced in the restaurants to keep it out of landfills. With the help of Local First Arizona and Recycled City, Cocina Chiwas has successfully composted all food waste for nearly three months. 

The program aims to assist restaurants located along Apache Boulevard and Broadway Road. The area is known for its high rates of diversity bringing together many different communities and cultures, however, there are also issues with food access and poverty according to the City of Tempe. The Tempe Compost Program is able to provide the resources to the restaurants through funding from the City of Tempe. 

Nick Shivka, the senior manager of sustainability initiatives for Local First Arizona, recruited two restaurants to join the program which have already begun the composting process. Cocina Chiwas was the pilot restaurant, signed to the program in August, with Chen’s Noodle House following soon after. 

“It is one of the most diverse zip codes in Arizona,” said Shivka. “There are over 100 different languages and dialects spoken in this area.”

Shivka visits the participating restaurants to do an initial inventory of the business’ existing infrastructure. Training and composting materials are provided to the businesses with adjustments made to their needs. 

The restaurant composts food waste and materials on-site and partners with Recycled City to process the compost to give to local farms. The local farms can grow produce that the restaurants need creating a sustainable ongoing loop of producing and reusing food. 

“It is a great opportunity to lift up a group of businesses that just don’t have the capacity to market themselves,” Shivka said. 

Cocina Chiwas opened in the spring and joined the Tempe Compost Program not long after with the help of Local First Arizona and the entire team at the restaurant.

According to General Manager Adrian Galindo, improving waste and inefficiency has always been important to the team. “There are a lot of people who talk about the change they want to see in the world and we have realized that talk is fantastic, but you really have to enact some sort of physical change or action,” Galindo said. 

Galindo was approached by Shivka about the program, and for the restaurant and the team integrating composting was a “no-brainer.” 

“Not only is it a beautiful story, it just makes sense,” Galindo said. 

“We are all of Mexican descent,” said Galindo. “It's always kind of been the drive to highlight Mexican culture in the way that we feel best shows it.”

According to Maddie Mercer, the neighborhood resilience coordinator with the Sustainability and Resilience Commission, Tempe has invested $35,000 into this program.

The City of Tempe had already worked on a food access initiative in the Apache area called Grow Local Tempe. In that area, 20% or more of those residents live at or below the poverty line and many residents live more than half a mile away from the nearest grocery store, according to Mercer. For the city, expanding food access and diverting waste through the Tempe Compost Program go hand-in-hand.

“We are starting small for now and then we will look for additional funding to scale this program later on,” Mercer said. 

Three more restaurants are in the onboarding process to join the program with the hopes of having all five operating by the end of the year. 

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