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FarmLink: Connecting Food Waste to Food Security

Food Security

FarmLink: Connecting Food Waste to Food Security

The Dirt

FarmLink, an organization connecting food banks to food producers, is leading the way to provide fresh, healthy, safe food to those in need of assistance. It’s no secret that COVID has had a huge impact on our food system: bottlenecks in the supply chain have led to farmers dumping excess milk, plowing over perfectly good produce, and some cuts of meats not even making their way to grocery stores. Realizing these foods should be routed to those in need instead of going to waste, FarmLink steps in to bridge the gap.

Going to the grocery store is suddenly accompanied by a strange anxiety – do I have my mask? My sanitizer? Will they have what I need? What if I can’t find any milk or meat? In the midst of all of this stress and chaos, very few of us have stopped to think about the people less fortunate: those who can’t even afford to shop at the grocery store. Where will they get their food?

Food Problems in the U.S. Existed before COVID

Food insecurity is an increasingly large problem in the United States, even when we are not dealing with a pandemic. We’ve always faced challenges with feeding our entire nation, especially in low-income and food desert communities. In 2018, 10 million adults in the U.S. used food pantries – that’s 5% of the population. Since COVID, Feeding America gave out 20% more food in March than the average month and estimates that 1 in 6 Americans could face hunger.

Now, this does not mean that we don’t have enough food to feed our people. In fact, we have more than enough. The COVID economy is not helping. In addition, the problem currently lies with how much food we waste, how much goes uneaten, and how much food we lose along the food production chain. In fact, the FDA estimates that between 30 to 40% of the food supply in the United States is wasted and lost every year. Each year, it’s estimated we waste about 140 billion pounds of food, with produce on farms accounting for 20 billion pounds. How is this possible when so many people are going hungry?

It is a perfect storm: food is being wasted and food banks need food. Seems counterintuitive, right? With unemployment at 13.3% due to businesses closing and workers being let go by their companies, people suddenly find themselves in a position where putting food on the table is no longer a simple task. Lines outside of food pantries run for miles long, but because of the disturbance in the food supply chain, many return home hungry and empty-handed.

Then came FarmLink…

FarmLink is an organization that started about 2 months ago by some pretty incredible young people: Will Collier, a Brown University graduate; James Kanoff at Stanford University; and Aidan Reilly, Ben Collier, and Max Goldman at Brown University. They came up with the idea after reading about the lines at food banks and the amount of food being wasted in the country. From there, they connected the dots, or linked them, if you will. Aidan Reilly and James Kanoff, who volunteered at their local food bank in Los Angeles in earlier years, saw the effects COVID was having close to home.

“COVID spurred our creation of FarmLink because of the unprecedented amount of food waste in the system and demand at food banks. Food bank lines were miles long. There’s more demand than in the Great Depression. Seeing food waste and food security, we wanted to attack both and combine two pieces of the process.”

– Will Collier, co-founder

The goal of FarmLink was simple: to rescue wasted and surplus food from farms and connect them with food banks around the country in need of food during COVID. The first transfer they made was with an onion farm in Idaho, Owhyhee Farms. At Owhyhee, there were millions of pounds of surplus onions going straight to the dump because they had nowhere to go. FarmLink called the farm and inquired about rerouting the onion truck to a foodbank in L.A. instead of the dump. They successfully transferred the onions, and FarmLink took off from there.

How It Works

FarmLink, though early in its inception, launched with what has proven so far to be a well-oiled transfer system from farms to food banks. With efficiency top of mind at every step, they get in touch with farmers and food banks with the use of research teams. The researchers figure out where to find surplus and what farms are in surplus of what items, depending on which items are in harvest. They then look to see what counties around those farms are underserved and in need of food.

The method is not to move food more easily, but rather to fill in the gaps and get food to communities truly in need. Some places where FarmLink has already provided food are the Navaho Nation in southwestern U.S., New York City, Detroit, Chicago, L.A., and Siskiyou County in Northern California, which was labeled the hungriest county in California in 2017.

FarmLink is 100% volunteer-operated and all proceeds go to the purchasing of food from farmers and transportation. They work hard to pay farmers that need compensation for pick-and-pack fees, which include harvesting, labor, and packaging, and also provide breakeven money on a crop so farmers can continue planting that crop. FarmLink also compensates truck drivers and any essential workers in the process to support the supply chain.

“The growth and support we’ve gotten and sheer volume we’ve been able to move has been completely overwhelming … we’ve been in awe with the scale we’ve been able to grow at and seeing so many people come together.” – Will Collier

FarmLink Today and Going Forward

Today, FarmLink has hundreds of volunteers all across the country and from more than 20 schools, and it’s still growing! They have a weekly newsletter to keep donors and supporters up to date on what’s going on and how they can continue to help the process. Every piece of FarmLink has been developed and continues to operate virtually, proving you can do anything you put your mind to, even with limited human contact. The founder and most volunteers are young college students or recent college graduates.

Will Collier recognizes the benefits to this: “It’s been incredible for all of us to see how interested and motivated our generation is. One thing you hear is millennials are looked at as selfish with phones, technology, social media, but I think this has been an amazing way for all of us to share that we do have interest in helping out our communities and people across the country.”

Even once COVID is no longer an issue, this will only be the beginning of FarmLink in fulfilling their continued goal of leaving no person hungry.

Will says, “the cusp of what we’re trying to get to is still undiscovered.” In May alone, FarmLink moved one million pounds of food, and in just the first half of June, they have already moved over three million. The possibilities are endless for this incredible company!

Want to be part of the change?

FarmLink is always interested in volunteers! Applications can be found on their website and donations are always welcome! You can also subscribe to their weekly newsletter, join their Facebook group, and follow them on Instagram @farmlinkproject to stay in the know!

The Bottom Line

Food waste and food security remain two major problems globally. With the help of organizations like FarmLink, we all can work to leverage our food, reduce waste, and put food on the table for those in need. Consider supporting FarmLink and organizations like this, and together, we can work to end hunger and end food waste.

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