Since the coronavirus pandemic, demand from restaurants, stadiums, and other food distributors plummeted drastically. Meanwhile, people were lining up in droves at food banks nationwide. This supply-chain disconnect has led to farmers throwing away fresh produce when food banks are seeing huge spikes in demand.
To put this into perspective, one in two children and one in three adults will experience food insecurity in the pandemic, according to a study conducted by Feeding America. To make matters worse, 265 million people globally are projected to face hunger this year as a result of the pandemic.
So when videos began surfacing online of farmers tragically dumping gallons of milk and pounds of fresh vegetables, a couple of college students spotted an opportunity.
The idea came from James Kanoff and Aidan Reilly, two students at Brown University in Providence. They decided to initiate their own grassroots movement called FarmLink, a program that helps to reduce food waste by purchasing excess food from farmers and donating it to food banks across the U.S. By acquiring surplus produce and paying transportation costs in order to deliver fresh food to people in need, it ensures good food goes to people’s plates, not into the trash.
According to Goldman, the humble effort started small—with cold calls to farmers. The farms were eager to help, and agreed to facilitate the transport of food to food banks in the Southwest and Northeast. The students paid nearly $5,000 in wages for farm workers and truck drivers to handle the donated food.
Within the first week, Ben and Will Collier (who had also been mulling over ways to start battling the farm and food bank issues from the East Coast) and Max Goldman joined the effort to pull off the first two deliveries of 50,000 pounds of onions from Oregon and 10,800 eggs from Southern California. After these first deliveries, they realized that they could scale the process even further. With that, FarmLink was officially born.
The idea started spreading—and what started with just a handful of students soon evolved into a network of college students and recent graduates from different universities. “Because of the immense amount of interest in helping out and joining the project, we had to stop growing organically by pulling in friends and start channeling people through an application and structured onboarding process. Now, almost eight weeks into this project, we are a team of over 100 people,” says Goldman.
As of June 15, the group has already managed to redirect more than over 2.4 million pounds of food. This equates to over 2.5 million meals. And they’re still going strong–Goldman says they don’t plan on stopping after the pandemic is over.
“We are still working to figure out how FarmLink will operate in a post-pandemic world," he says. "As demand from restaurants and distributors returns to normal (or close to normal) levels, we expect to have to change the process through which we find surplus produce and eliminate waste. We want to maintain these connections between farms and local communities to redistribute food waste and connect large quantities of produce to food deserts however we can.”
So how can you help? According to Goldman, Farm Link’s biggest challenge is funding the operation. “As we connect with larger sources of produce and speak with members of food banks and food rescue organizations, we have scaled the amount of food that we are moving each week exponentially. In order to keep rescuing and moving food, as well as providing relief that we are giving to farmers and other essential workers, we need help from as many people as possible to raise money and spread the word about our cause.”
If you want to partake in the movement, volunteers, farmers, transportation companies, and food banks can get involved by contacting and setting up your own personal fundraiser with FarmLink here.
“The tragic part about this food crisis is that on an international level, farmers grow enough food to feed the world’s population and roughly 2 billion more people. The issue is just connecting this food to people who need it. We’ll be actively working to ensure that we amplify the voices of workers all along the supply chain, learn from local organizers, and support communities underserved by relief programs,” says Goldman. “After all, this problem is not going away anytime soon. There is so much to be done.”