We grow many of the fruits and veggies we serve in the restaurant in our garden! We make our own olive oil that we use for cooking and dressings. After events any leftover fresh fruits and vegetables that won’t be eaten in time are preserved in olive oil, dried and made into powders, frozen, made into jams, sauces, etc. Any edible food excess is given to our staff members, volunteers, neighbors or donated to a local school.
It has been estimated that each year, more than 100 billion pounds of food is wasted in the United States. That equates to more than 160 billion dollars worth of food thrown away each year. At the same time, in many parts of the United States, there is a crisis caused by people having limited access to healthy & affordable food options. The waste of food is not only a waste of money and bad for the environment, but it is also making vulnerable populations even more vulnerable.
Authority Magazine started a new series called “How Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies and Food Companies Are Helping To Eliminate Food Waste.” In this interview series, we are talking to leaders and principals of Restaurants, Grocery Stores, Supermarkets, Hospitality Companies, Food Companies, and any business or nonprofit that is helping to eliminate food waste, about the initiatives they are taking to eliminate or reduce food waste.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stefanie Grassley.
Stefanie is the owner of Castello di Ristonchi — a 1,000 year old castle in Tuscany, Italy. Stefanie and her husband Rasmus Palmqvist and their two children have converted the castle into an eco-hotel, restaurant, garden and farm where they host weddings and corporate retreats. Her interest in fighting food waste sparked while living in New York City where huge bags of good food piled up on sidewalks and movie set leftovers were thrown out. Now she is doing what she can in her own business to make it as eco friendly and self-sustaining as possible.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Of course, thank you! What brought me to the castle was a deep yearning to be in nature. I wanted to live from the earth, connect with it — grow my own food, teach my children the old ways of living. After a decade in New York City it was time for me to get away from the daily consumerism and screens that seem to dominate so much of people’s lives now. Rasmus and I always wanted to create a place where people of all cultures could come together and be inspired in nature. To live life to the fullest, be present, be with loved ones — just be.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began at your company or organization?
I think the most interesting thing is how we got here in the first place. Everyone wants to know how an American and a Dane ended up in an ancient Italian castle!
We were looking at land to build on and a friend of ours saw the price of the land and said, “Whoa you could buy a whole castle for that price!” We looked at each other and said, yeah ok, that’s an idea! We googled “Castles for sale”, google suggested we add ‘Italy’ and we went with it. We found Castello di Ristonchi soon after and there was just something special about it. We felt so strongly that we should bring this place back to life. To fill it with people and events and music — just as it was centuries ago. We knew it would be hard, but we weren’t prepared for the difficulties we’ve faced in the past 3 years. A life threatening accident for me and a pandemic where not part of the plan but we are still so happy with our choice. We didn’t want to live our lives thinking about what could of been though, we had to jump way out of our comfort zones and head first into a new life in Italy.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
So many mistakes — but I think they might all be too fresh to be funny! One that comes to mind is not having a solid contract in place our first year and just thinking everything was going to go fine all the time. Newsflash it doesn’t!
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Leading comes naturally to me in the way that I want to control everything. What I have to stop and work on in my leadership is letting go and believing that my team members can handle it without me. It is important to listen to other’s ideas. I love when people come to me with suggestions of what they will do.
Recently I had two new employees suggest that we should rearrange one of our rooms. They proposed the idea and I said, great — do it! It’s a small thing that builds their confidence to come to me with more ideas in the future.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘Make a decision — then make it the right one.’ We make so many decisions every day, some harder than others. When it comes to those big life decisions I don’t believe in dragging my feet. I make a decision then make sure it’s the right one. I am committing to working as hard as I need to make sure the choice I made is the right one for me and my family.
We made the decision to leave Copenhagen, Denmark to come live at the castle and start this project. Sometimes I will find my mind wandering, “We made the wrong decision! We took the kids away from a great educational system. We had so many friends there, etc. etc.” Instead of going down that path I focus on what things I need to do in order to make sure coming to the castle was the right decision. We didn’t like the school options here so we created a school with other local families. We miss our friends from around the world so we host parties here and invite everyone. Any decision can be the right one — what’s important is what you do after you make it.
OK, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. What exactly are we talking about when we refer to food waste?
Food waste happens when good food goes bad. Food that could be used is left to spoil instead of being consumed. Here at Castello di Ristonchi we are part of a global initiative to reduce food waste which the FAO estimates to be 1.6 billion tons a year.
Can you help articulate a few of the main causes of food waste?
I think the main cause of food waste is that the people creating most of it don’t care enough. If more restaurants, groceries, politicians and other corporations did what they could to reduce food waste it wouldn’t be so much of an issue. We have very little food waste and we are cooking 3 meals a day for 50–100 people during our events.
What are a few of the obstacles that companies and organizations face when it comes to distributing extra or excess food? What can be done to overcome those barriers?
In many places there are laws forbidding the donation of excess food. Grocery stores lock their dumpsters full of good food headed toward landfills. Besides reducing food waste in our own homes the most important thing we can do together is to support only those businesses who have plans in action to fight food waste.
Can you describe a few of the ways that you or your organization are helping to reduce food waste?
I’m sure you know, weddings can be one of the most wasteful events in a lifetime! The first corporate event we hosted here went through thousands of plastic water bottles. We knew we had to do something immediately to stop this from happening at future events. These are some of the initiatives we’ve done in the past three years to become self-sustainable and on the path to zero waste:
1. We grow many of the fruits and veggies we serve in the restaurant in our garden! We make our own olive oil that we use for cooking and dressings.
2. After events any leftover fresh fruits and vegetables that won’t be eaten in time are preserved in olive oil, dried and made into powders, frozen, made into jams, sauces, etc.
3. Any edible food excess is given to our staff members, volunteers, neighbors or donated to a local school.
4. Other food scraps are fed to our ducks and chickens. Have you ever had an egg from a chicken who eats only the best home grown organic Italian food?
5. Once the birds have had their fill it goes to the compost pile. Which is turned into gold for our garden and helps us grown more food.
6. We have 100 beehives and cultivate honey to serve to our guests. We plant flowers and herbs to feed our bees.
7. We create biochar. Burning agricultural waste out in the open is harmful for the environment but under the right conditions farm waste can be made into biochar, a form of charcoal, which can improve soil and seize carbon.
8. We grow hemp! Hemp is basically nature’s purifier. The plant captures carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, quickly cleaning the air we breathe as a result. In fact, for every ton of hemp produced, 1.63 tons of carbon is removed from the air, making hemp a much more effective sequester of carbon dioxide than trees.
9. We have our own fresh mountain spring water on tap. No plastic water bottles here please! We encourage our guests to bring their own reusable bottle or mug.
10. We forage in the forest for natural medicines and herbs. We make salves for our guests if they get a bee-sting or brew wild tea.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help address the root of this problem?
1. Educate yourselves and your community. Make the decision to only support those companies who are actively reducing food waste.
2. Politicians can make incentives for businesses to save money or at least not get sued for allowing people to take food waste.
3. Food waste should be prevented at source when possible, any surplus food should be redistributed for human consumption where safe to do so.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Don’t try to do everything yourself. Hire out what you don’t like to do. There was a point when we first started where I was cooking, cleaning, doing the PR and marketing, emails, event planning, web design, social media, etc etc all while I had a baby and a toddler. I am a hard worker and I thrive on a challenge — but I needed to take a step back and focus on the things I am good at, the things only I can do for my business.
- Don’t be afraid to invest in your business. I’m a saver and Rasmus is a spender. It was difficult for me — ok, it still is — to put money towards big items or projects that will make our business better. Right away we bought new mattresses and bedding. Then outdoor furniture, built custom tables, installed outdoor lighting, garden, fences, pool chairs and umbrellas along with farm equipment and kitchen tools. All things that will give our clients a better experience and make life easier for our staff.
- Be very specific with your goals. Sometimes it’s scary to go after what you really want in the beginning because it feels like you have to chase the money. Create plans and goals for your business; quarterly, 1 year, 3 years, 10 years. Then work backwards and write out what you need to do by what deadline in order to meet your goals.
- Don’t take anything personally, you’re not for everyone. I took bad reviews personally. If a client was ever upset I took it as my own failure. Thankfully I’ve learned to move past those feelings and distinguish myself from my business. It’s ok if someone doesn’t like what we do here, they don’t have to come back. There are plenty of people all over the world who get it. They see us and what we are trying to accomplish — and they want to support it.
- Follow your gut. If a client seems hard to work with before they book stay away! There have been clients who I did not want to book but felt I had to because we needed the money. Those always turn out terrible. It is better to say, we aren’t the right fit for you and allow space for your ideal client to come your way.
Are there other leaders or organizations who have done good work to address food waste? Can you tell us what they have done? What specifically impresses you about their work? Perhaps we can reach out to them to include them in this series.
Having lived in Copenhagen, Denmark for a few years I am a fan of René Redzepi who serves only local, foraged and sustainable foods (including ants and edible insects). I’ve had a few friends who foraged ants to be served at Noma and have gone behind the scenes there. It’s a great set-up where so much is produced onsite which is what we aspire to do here.
The Mohegan medicine woman and anthropologis Gladys Iola Tantaquidgeon’s reverence and knowledge of nature has inspired me to learn about and seek out all the things growing around us and connect with my environment and what it has to offer. There are so many times when a volunteer will say, ‘we need to go to the store — we don’t have any vegetables’ meanwhile there is an entire garden full of veggies and a forest overflowing with edible goodness. They just don’t know what to look for. It’s amazing how humans have come to believe that if it’s not wrapped in plastic it’s not edible.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I wish I could inspire a more harmonious world. The way to do this is by reconnecting and working together with nature. If we utilized indigenous knowledge along with modern science and technology we would be on our way to a more sustainable and harmonious world.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
It’s Oprah! I am continuously inspired by her knowledge and strength. I aspire to be as open and confident as she is and I want to share my story to help others like she does.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please follow along in our adventures on instagram: www.instagram.com/thecreatorscastle
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This was very meaningful, thank you so much, and we wish you only continued success.