Meet Sonoma County Chef and Owner of Farm to Pantry Duskie Estes
Duskie Estes is not only the Executive Director of non-profit gleaning organization Farm to Pantry; she's also a rancher, a farmer, a local chef and owner of Black Pig Meat Co., as well as the former ZAZU kitchen + farm.
If you think you've seen her before, it's because she's appeared on popular cooking shows like Top Chef, Beat Bobby Flay, The Next Iron Chef, and various PBS shows. She's often a judge on Food Network's Guy's Grocery Games, and recently won Burger Truck Brawl on Discovery +.
Her latest venture is serving as Executive Director of Farm to Pantry, a nonprofit that goes onto more than 350 farms and backyards throughout Sonoma County, gleaning produce that would otherwise be discarded and sharing it with marginalized families. "Saving produce for people who are hungry is amazing in its multiple ways of giving," she says proudly.
Estes explains that, "Every farm produces more than it actually needs in order to have enough to sell in the marketplace. Not every item is ideal for sale, for a lot of reasons that could include being an irregular size or simply too ripe." Even a healthy backyard kitchen garden produces more than a home gardener needs, resulting in a surplus.
"Forty percent of all food produced in the United States goes to waste, and ten percent of greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to this food waste," she points out. "So this is actually an area where you can make a difference. If you fight and combat food waste, you can actually also fight and combat global warming."
This effort became especially important during the pandemic, when the food distribution system broke down, and Sonoma County's tight-knit network of restauranteurs and farmers swung into action. "When the restaurants shuttered," Estes recalls, "there was a lot of food out there, and it wasn't worth it for farmers to pay the labor to harvest. So what Farm to Pantry did was bring volunteers."
First established in 2008, Farm to Pantry continues its work with the help of more than 300 volunteers, who glean on more than 350 properties and share that produce with 100 community partners. With a smile, Estes says, "We make sure that food doesn't go to waste, and actually feeds hungry bellies."
Local visitors can join Farm to Pantry's efforts by volunteering for three hours in a single morning, either in a backyard or on a farm. "That same day, the food gets distributed, so the gratification is immediate," Estes says. "We're on amazing, beautiful properties all over — including Jackson Family Farms at the Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate in Santa Rosa — and you'll get the inside scoop on what Sonoma County is really like."
If you want to come volunteer with Farm to Pantry in Sonoma County, you can book directly through the Farm to Pantry website, where donations are also gladly accepted!