Fork to Pork's Pigs Upcycle Martha's Vineyard's Food Waste
Come most spring days, Jo Douglas will drive her truck around Martha’s Vineyard, and stop at more than 30 restaurants to collect leftovers and food scraps. She’ll cart about 15 barrels back to her farm on the Land Bank Wapatequa Woods property that straddles the Oak Bluffs, Vineyard Haven line — and lay out a feast for her passel of Idaho pasture pigs.
When she pulls up with a truck full of carrot tops, beet greens, lettuce, tomatoes, avocado pits, scrambled eggs and a new discovery, yucca, the pigs squeal. (They are also known to enjoy the occasional Back Door Donut.) Jo’s pigs survive entirely on leftovers, until the time inevitably comes for her to slaughter them, and return them to many of those restaurants as pork.
Thus is the circular, righteous beauty of Fork to Pork.
Anyone who’s worked in a restaurant knows how much food gets thrown out — salad greens showing a bit of browning, prepared sides like vegetables and potatoes that can’t be used for a second service, or baked goods that lose their charm after a day or two, never mind the unfinished meals that diners leave on their plates.
Unlike restaurant patrons, Jo’s pigs never leave scraps behind.
Since eighth grade, Jo has wanted to be a farmer. In high school and while she was earning her degree in sustainable agriculture and food production (with a minor in animal studies) from Vermont’s Green Mountain College, she worked on farms as a farm worker, apprentice, intern, and manager. Summers, she’d come to Martha’s Vineyard.
Five years ago, she started her own farm.
“I was looking for a farm model that would work, where I could have my own animals,” she told me on a day I visited last summer, while pigs ate ravenously all around us. “I had worked on a couple of farms where we fed pigs some food scraps but not entirely on scraps.” A lot of farmers told her that feeding pigs a healthy diet completely from scraps couldn’t be done. “But I thought it could,” she said.
Most of the food she picks up around the Island would have been shipped off-Island to a landfill along with all our other waste (if it wasn’t composted). And at the same time, ferries coming back to the Island bring large amounts of hog feed. Why not raise pigs on food that would have otherwise been thrown away?
It’s a win-win-win, no matter how you look at it: Save the carbon impact of trucking wasted food off-Island, save the methane created by putting organic waste in a landfill, save the impact of transporting food for pigs back to the Island.
And the pigs seem to love the entire dining experience.
“You are what you eat, and around 95% of the pork in the US is from factory farms where the pigs are on cement floors and never get to exhibit their natural pig behavior of rooting for food,” Jo says. “That’s what pigs want to do. They’re smarter than dogs, so you have to kind of entertain them, so every day I come with my truck and I have 300 gallons worth of food, and they get to practice their natural behavior, rooting through all the food scraps and getting what they like. So they’re never bored, they’re always excited, they eat so much and then they take a few steps back and just pass out in a food coma.”
She says that when she first started, she collected from about 50 restaurants in all six towns, working 12 to 14 hour days. “I was starting my own business,” she says, “so I said yes to everything.” In the past few years, she says she’s been able to strike a healthier balance.
When I asked if there were any particular challenges she faced, she shrugged. “It’s a lot of work. It can be very physically demanding, and it’s seven days a week. But I love it. I don’t treat it as a job, it’s my life.
“I get to collect all this great food for [the pigs] and I get to see these 33 happy animals that are growing well and eating really good food.”
What You Can Do:
Check out Jo’s instagram (@forktopork) to see which restaurants help feed the pigs.
Consider ordering a pig for your family’s meals from Jo: She’ll pick up your food waste scraps to feed it! Write her at [email protected]
Find more info at forktopork.com
It’s very impressive to see the work that she’s done. I’ve met her and her family who all seem like dear people. Good luck to you Jo keep up the good work.