Reduce, Recover, Reharvest: My Journey Into Upcycling Food
Having been born and raised in the Midwest, fulling utilizing agricultural resources is not a new concept to me. I grew up visiting my grandparents' farm and learned that everything had a purpose and a place. Nothing was wasted. At the age of 50, I started a new career by following my heart back to my childhood memories of food production and land use. Some called it a midlife crisis, I called it going home.
With my entrepreneurial spirit in tow, I founded NETZRO in 2015. NETZRO is an integrated solution to reduce, recover and reharvest food that would otherwise be wasted or underutilized. The idea of sourcing byproducts from food and beverage manufacturing to be reclaimed for human consumption, was not a crazy thought. In fact, it felt like finding that puzzle piece that had been lost. During the first few years (after founding NETZRO), it was surprising that so many people saw repurposing food waste as not having economic opportunity. That type of activity had always fallen under non-profit initiatives. For me, as an experienced entrepreneur, it created a challenging and isolating experience. All the efforts that go into a new company, with a new product that does not clearly fall into a specific industry, began to appear as wasted time.
Image Credit: NETZRO
After 4 long years I was introduced to Turner Wyatt. He was referred to me by a few people I had met that were working on utilizing food byproducts. Turner helped me realize that I was a food upcycler and introduced me to the food upcycling movement. Turner, along with Ben Gray, had a detailed plan to start a trade association that would be called the Upcycled Food Association (UFA). It took little convincing; I was in, wholeheartedly.
By the end of 2019, a trade association was formed and as a founding member, I was part of an amazing talented group of food upcyclers. Most importantly I was part of a movement that was creating an industry. Having support from organizations like ReFED, Drexel University, NRDC and Harvard University, gave UFA instant credibility and access to the best experts in all the industries that make up our food system. The upcycled food industry has the chance to not only close the food supply chain, but enhance it economically. We have the chance to provide more nutritious food to more people. Creating a more resilient equitable food system is the goal the Members of UFA are taking head on.
I am humbled to be a member of the Board of Directors for UFA. Overseeing the definition of upcycled food and the creation of a standardized certification has been an amazing experience. As founding Board Members, we provide each other with support and inspiration to continue this amazing work in such challenging times. Being a part of creating an industry from the beginning, history in the making, is a once in a lifetime experience for which I am profoundly grateful.
Here we are in 2020, one of the most challenging years in history, and I have renewed hope for food justice and look forward to being part of creating a new and more resilient food system that feeds all people better with less resources. The timing is surreal. It has been hard to think about anything else but how movements create systematic change. I have concluded that a movement alone is not enough. It takes people committed to come together and form organizations like a trade association. This year, 2020, will go down in history, and I am hopeful that more people will realize that they can be part of the solution. We can solve these difficult problems we face together. The time for change is not later. The time for change is NOW. We can do this, and we are not alone.
Author Bio: Sue Marshall
Sue proudly lives and works in Minneapolis, MN—claiming more beachfront than its neighboring twin, St. Paul. Sue is partnering with Mother Nature to correct the mistakes of her generation and generations past. She spends her days collaborating with others that share her passion for economic & environmental sustainability while creating socially responsible initiatives. She spends her free time traveling the world in dedication to her role as a world-class mother and wife. Find out more about Sue and her work by listening the Too Good To Waste podcast.