How the Country Music Hall of Fame is reducing food waste
By Lizzy Alfs
Popular Nashville tourist attraction hopes to reduce its carbon footprint by donating food, composting and growing vegetables
The Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum has fed nearly 8,000 hungry people with excess food donated from its kitchens since late December, said Karl Ebert, the museum’s associate director of operations.
The popular tourist and event attraction in downtown Nashville has ramped up its food waste initiative by giving its leftover food to the Nashville Rescue Mission and by starting a composting program.
Since Feb. 22, museum officials estimate, the kitchen staff has composted 10,324 pounds of material.
“We are such a big organization and we produce so much food — we do over 400 catered events annually — and the food that’s left over was often ending up in the trash,” Ebert said. “Adding an extra step to reduce what goes into the trash and putting it to something that could be a better use, like composting, which gets put back into the community and reduces our carbon footprint, just makes the most sense.”
The museum is one of more than 50 Nashville restaurants and venues participating in Mayor Megan Barry’s first-of-its-kind Food Saver Challenge, which runs through May. Participants range from Opry Entertainment and the Hilton Garden Inn to Strategic Hospitality and Dozen Bakery.
The goal of the challenge is to get restaurants to waste less food in a broader effort to minimize landfill gases, help feed the hungry and reduce food costs. Across the U.S., restaurants and the overall food service sector are among the biggest contributors to food waste, which could fill a 90,000-seat stadium every day.
Nashville could act as a template for the innovative citywide challenge that can help the U.S. reach its goal of reducing 50 percent of food waste by 2030.
Ebert helped identify several ways the museum could reduce its own food waste, starting with educating the roughly 30 people on the kitchen staff on composting and recycling. Three bins are grouped together in several places, including the kitchens, banquet areas and staff break room, to separate compost from recycling and waste. Signs are posted to help teach people what goes in each bin.
“It changed the entire dynamic for us. It took about a week to teach everyone,” said the museum’s executive chef, Bobby Hammock.
The museum estimates it’s on track to compost 51,600 pounds of material by the end of the year with its current average of 1,147 pounds per week.
Next up: incorporating the composting program into the guest experience.
“The next step is to really take it to the front of house and really get our guests on board as well,” Ebert said. “We do see a million people through here every year, so even the percentage that buy food, if we can get them composting as well, that will take us to the next level.”
Composting has a large-scale impact at the museum, but the organization also is taking smaller steps to reduce food costs. A new hydroponic system is set to be installed this week on a rooftop terrace with plans to grow 35 different herbs, peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers.
If the 10-foot-by-10-foot plot is a success, Ebert wants to transition it to a bigger system at the museum’s East Nashville warehouse.
On the donation side, Hammock said the museum works hard not to over-prep food, but there’s often excess when you cook for large-scale events. A new partnership with the Nashville Rescue Mission means those leftovers are donated instead of winding up as waste.
“Our team and I think everybody here really embraces feeding people who are less fortunate,” Hammock said.
By the numbers: Reducing food waste
396: Trays of food the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum has donated to the Nashville Rescue Mission since late December
857: The museum’s projection for food trays donated by the end of 2017
1,147: Pounds of material composted per week at the museum
14,901: Pounds of food and material diverted from the landfill this year thanks to the museum’s composting and donation programs