Turnip Green Pesto

This easy pesto recipe is a great way to make use of often-discarded turnip greens and is a fan-favorite dish at Make Food Not Waste, an organization committed to keeping food out of landfills. Read on to find out how their Upcycling Kitchen project is helping supplement food availability in Detroit communities. If you can't find turnip greens, you can make this pesto with kale and/or collards. Toss with cooked pasta or drizzle over roasted potatoes or root vegetables.

Turnip Green Pesto in a bowl
Photo: Brittany Conerly
Active Time:
10 mins
Total Time:
10 mins

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How Two Pallets of Turnip Greens Became Pesto & Helped Nourish Detroit Communities

It's a brisk winter morning, and the parking lot of Detroit's Jefferson Avenue Presbyterian Church is full of people and food.

With the grand historic church in the background, a mix of Make Food Not Waste volunteers and church staff members help organize tables piled with food before the patrons arrive.

On one side of the parking lot, folding tables tower with mountains of bagged lettuce and seas of canned beans and vegetables. Containers of yogurt and packages of mixed fruit cups mingle with vegan "meats" and sauerkraut pierogi. Lining the curb are crates filled with cartons of milk, bags of apples, bulbs of garlic and squash of all varieties.

On the other side of the parking lot, another banquet-sized group of tables is topped with brown paper bags. Inside each is dinner that serves five—this week's offering is cabbage and turkey stew, with a salad on a side, and cranberry banana bread for dessert.

When the gates open at 10:30 a.m., people file in. Their first stop is the loose groceries, as fresh veggies, fruits and milk are popular items. After gathering ingredients, they pick up a brown-bagged meal—often grabbing one or two extra, looking out for a neighbor or an elderly family member who could use a nutritious, ready-to-eat meal.

This entire bounty of fresh, nutritious food was rescued from the landfill. Even though it's all still safe to eat, the grocery store, restaurant or farmers' market it came from was no longer planning to sell it. It may have been nearing its "best by" date (which isn't a measure of food safety, but peak quality), or they knew they wouldn't be able to sell it all while it was still fresh. And wouldn't it be better to use that food to nourish people rather than send it to rot in a landfill and produce methane—one of the most potent greenhouse gases?

That's where Make Food Not Waste steps in. As a nonprofit with the goal of protecting the environment by keeping food out of landfills, we've been operating our Upcycling Kitchen since the start of 2021. Housed inside a historic church on Detroit's east side, we redistribute rescued groceries that are ready to eat, and process food that needs a little more love before it can be more beneficial for consumers.

a photo of a woman taking food out of the oven
Make Food Not Waste

The processing part is what sets us apart from other food pantries. Often, we get food donations that the average consumer may not have the skills or time to handle—like a 50-pound bag of rice, frozen pierogi dough scraps or two pallets of turnip greens! Our team of professional chefs can turn that giant bag of rice into a bulk batch of stir-fry, use that pierogi dough to make chicken and dumplings, and turn those turnip greens and stems into a vibrant green pesto that has been a fan favorite, served over roasted potatoes and vegetables. (Make it at home with the recipe that follows.)

Providing nutritious prepared meals and grocery items from food that would otherwise have gone to waste addresses two problems in one go. Our community gets access to healthy, fresh food, while we do our part to protect the environment by reducing greenhouse gases and putting our precious resources—the water, land, transportation and human effort that went into producing all that food—to good use. Since our founding in January 2021, we've rescued 76,000 pounds of food and prepared more than 85,500 meals.Food waste is an ever-present problem in American life. We waste about a third of the food we produce in this country, more than 60% of which is discarded at a commercial level. While Make Food Not Waste can't solve this worldwide problem, we can at least be a part of the solution in Detroit. All that diverted food means we can be out in the church parking lot every single Friday, distributing 1,000 prepared meals—plus fresh groceries—to Detroiters who are experiencing food insecurity.


  • 8 cups chopped turnip, kale and/or collard greens and stems

  • 1 cup chopped fresh basil

  • Juice of 1 lemon

  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic

  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt

  • ¼ teaspoon ground pepper

  • 1 cup pecan oil or extra-virgin olive oil

  • ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese (see Note)


  1. Combine greens and stems, basil, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper in a food processor; process until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add oil. Scrape down the sides of the work bowl. Add Parmesan; process until combined.


If you avoid cheese made with rennet, look for vegetarian Parmesan cheese, which is made without it.

To make ahead

Refrigerate for up to 1 week. Or freeze in an ice cube tray, then transfer frozen cubes to an airtight container and freeze for up to 6 months.

Nutrition Facts (per serving)

157 Calories
15g Fat
3g Carbs
2g Protein
Nutrition Facts
Servings Per Recipe 16
Serving Size 2 Tbsp.
Calories 157
% Daily Value *
Total Carbohydrate 3g 1%
Dietary Fiber 1g 4%
Protein 2g 4%
Total Fat 15g 19%
Saturated Fat 3g 15%
Cholesterol 3mg 1%
Vitamin A 3363IU 67%
Vitamin C 19mg 21%
Vitamin D 1IU 0%
Vitamin E 1mg 4%
Folate 56mcg 14%
Vitamin K 80mcg 67%
Sodium 199mg 9%
Calcium 90mg 7%
Magnesium 12mg 3%
Potassium 103mg 2%

Nutrition information is calculated by a registered dietitian using an ingredient database but should be considered an estimate.

* Daily Values (DVs) are the recommended amounts of nutrients to consume each day. Percent Daily Value (%DV) found on nutrition labels tells you how much a serving of a particular food or recipe contributes to each of those total recommended amounts. Per the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the daily value is based on a standard 2,000 calorie diet. Depending on your calorie needs or if you have a health condition, you may need more or less of particular nutrients. (For example, it’s recommended that people following a heart-healthy diet eat less sodium on a daily basis compared to those following a standard diet.)

(-) Information is not currently available for this nutrient. If you are following a special diet for medical reasons, be sure to consult with your primary care provider or a registered dietitian to better understand your personal nutrition needs.

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