Waste not, want not Miss Piggy
October 24, 2008
Sean Wharton is a man with a mission: he’d like to see more people raise hogs.
He owns three out on a farm in Kamas. Those hogs eat food waste from his four restaurants and catering business. Stale cheese samplers, half-eaten burgers, left-over fruit trays otherwise end up in the trash.
He then sells the piglets to Future Farmers of America and 4H kids for $65 each. He made $3,000 last year on piglets alone. An adult pig will sell to market for about $150 to $200.
That’s not the best part.
When Wharton’s staff at the Gateway Grill in Kamas takes out the garbage at night, there’s just one bag. He recycles all the paper and plastic, and without food waste, there’s no stinking, leaking, fly-infested dumpster out back.
What he doesn’t feed to his hogs he composts. That will soon be spread into his garden on the farm.
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This plan has worked so well, and has been so profitable, that Wharton would like to see other people get involved and reduce the amount of food wasted at restaurants and the amount of garbage sent to landfills.
More people in Kamas could participate in the agriculture industry while making money with little effort, he said.
To keep the pigs healthy, he only feeds them cooked protein and high-quality vegetable scraps. There’s enough of that in the garbage cans that there’s no reason to risk the animals’ health with bones, raw meat and rotten food, he said.
Every sink and garbage can in his kitchens has a five-gallon bucket next to it to catch the scraps.
"I’m particularly a guy who wants to be a producer in our world, and not just one more consumer. I’m able to put cost into something that provides something new," he said.
R.C. Farms in Las Vegas is Nevada’s largest pig farm and is a member of National F.A.C.T.S., an acronym for Food And Conservation Through Swine. The group promotes the feeding of pigs with processed food scraps.
Google R.C. Farms, however, and what comes up is a list of problems the business has had with neighbors.
"We never want to be a big hog farm no one wants to live near them," Wharton said.
But his operation works great with only three pigs. He believes other people with enough space and shelter for the animals could have a similar experience.
"If we can set up a program that gets local chefs involved saving good, usable products, and put them in touch with people who want to raise one or two hogs, we can get people becoming agricultural producers again," he said.
People with pigs in the Kamas valley often grow feed for them. If the farmers can use the scraps, their land can be used for other needs, he said.
Wharton has 20 piglets on his farm now, and has standing orders for them all the time, he said. If people want to raise them for market, a piglet can grow up to 250 lbs. in only 165 days. Meat is selling now for about 65 cents a pound.
Recycle Utah has expressed interest in promoting the program as a way to reduce waste in landfills.
What Wharton is doing is being considered a pilot program, with several restaurant managers in Park City watching to see if it’s something they could accommodate.
Food waste takes up huge volumes in garbage cans, trucks and landfills, said Insa Riepen, Recycle Utah executive director.
"We need to capture it and divert it. Fifty percent of what a restaurant throws out is wet food waste, and reusing is always better than recycling," she said.
But the project might not be easy to implement. First, committing workers to separate the good waste from the bad takes work, and a busy kitchen might not be willing to do that.
Second, to keep the scraps edible they need to be refrigerated until pick-up. Not every kitchen has room in their freezer for that.
Third, picking up the scraps on a regular, timely basis will require fuel and time that might be a hard commitment to get.
Wharton thinks a centralized drop-off point somewhere with a large refrigerator might solve that problem, but there are still kinks to work out before local restaurants will commit.
Once the pick-up of scraps is worked out, Wharton doesn’t think there will be a shortage of people wanting the feed. Raising a pig is easy, he said.
Greg Woolstenhulme, a senior at North Summit High School, has experience in it. He made $2,300 this year with a pig he entered into a show and won third place.
He spent about $50 on an insemination kit to breed his award-winning hog and will now keep it to breed more.
He said an owner needs to provide good shelter so the pigs don’t get heat-stroke (they can’t sweat), a good water supply and a way to keep piglets warm.
Woolstenhulme would never feed his hog scraps. He buys top-of-the-line Purina Hog Chow. But he sees his neighbors do it for animals they plan to eat themselves. The type of feed affects the quality of the meat, he explained.