Restaurant News & Reviews

Feast Q&A: Getting restaurants to think twice about waste

David S. Baker, founder of Green Restaurant Alliance of Sacramento.
David S. Baker, founder of Green Restaurant Alliance of Sacramento.

These days, you might say David S. Baker works in diversion, as in diverting produce scraps from landfills and using them instead to build healthy soils. In farm-to-fork-centric Sacramento, this former wine steward for Selland’s Market-Cafe believes it’s a crucial part of the equation.

A longtime cyclist as well as an environmentalist, Baker founded the Green Restaurant Alliance of Sacramento (GRAS). He is likely a familiar sight to many locals as he makes his way through town on a heavy-duty cargo bike equipped with a trailer usually piled high with kitchen scraps. With ReSoil, another green initiative he helped start, he and a small band of volunteers run what he calls “a pedal-powered community compost network.” He has also been known to drive a diesel car fueled with recycled vegetable oil.

Q: You founded the Green Restaurant Alliance of Sacramento in 2010. What was your inspiration?

A: I had come from the Bay Area and had known the model of Chez Panisse and Alice Waters. She used to go back to her farm in Sonoma with all of her produce scraps. The Bay Area was just starting to do municipal composting. It was a matter of, “If they can do it there, why can’t we do it here?” I coordinated the restaurants and trained them. It was probably 1,000 pounds or more a week to start. Now we’re diverting about 15,000 pounds of produce scraps a week from 17 restaurants and a couple of other businesses.

Q: You do this with little to no money. What makes you so passionate about this?

A: I just kind of happened into this. There was all of this food waste, and I said, “Let’s see if we can do this.” I still didn’t know the importance of it. My family composts, and I knew people who composted. But I wasn’t the biggest composter and I didn’t really know much about it. It turns out, building healthy soil is one of the best ways to combat greenhouse gases and global warming.

Q: How so?

A: Soil can sequester carbon. By working in tandem with the plants and photosynthesis, they can send carbon back into the ground. The organic matter in compost is what’s critical to that. It enables plants to grow and helps with water retention. Starting last May, we developed the Pedal-powered Community Compost Network. We have a custom-made bike trailer. We pick up green waste from restaurants and pedal them to community gardens and some home gardens. We do it with volunteers right now, but the goal is to eventually have someone paid to do this.

Q: Shifting gears to another interest of yours, you have pushed to have chenin blanc get the respect you think it deserves. Why?

A: We still have our annual tasting. It’s going pretty well. If you look at all the wine bibles from 40 years ago, under chenin blanc they will talk about the Loire Valley (in France) and South Africa, and they will always mention Clarksburg as one of the primary regions. Five years ago, the market was so bad that most of the chenin blanc was going to bulk white wine. It is a good wine. It naturally has a great acidity and is very versatile. But no restaurants were carrying it, so we started a campaign. My aim is to make it the summer sipper in Sacramento, where every restaurant would carry it. When you come to Sacramento, that’s what you would drink.

Blair Anthony Robertson: 916-321-1099, @Blarob

David S. Baker

Founder, Green Restaurant Alliance of Sacramento

Baker has encouraged area restaurants to be more environmentally engaged by getting them to compost organic waste material, recycling corks instead of throwing them away and more. He has also pushed to have the once-lowly chenin blanc be considered as Sacramento’s wine.