“We’ve always been flexible,” Regina Anderson, Executive Director of Food Recovery Network tells me. “We’ve always adapted.”
When COVID-19 struck the organization faced record food waste, record food need, and hundreds of Food Recovery Network volunteer chapters within universities transitioning to remote learning. The organization’s mission—to recover food waste and mitigate hunger—became ever more urgent as the country’s food distribution chains began to fray, news outlets documented massive amounts of food being thrown away, and food banks faced extraordinary demand.
An urgent call for assistance from a local food bank in Santa Monica in mid-April prompted James Kanoff, 22, to gather friends and begin cold-calling local farms to see if they had surplus food. Once they realized this model was scalable, they created an organization called FarmLink. They were able to onboard over a hundred student volunteers from Food Recovery Network, who were no longer on campus but wanted to be involved in the nationwide relief efforts. Food Recovery Network has been able to offer infrastructural support, connecting FarmLink with their network of food banks across the country.
In the past five months, FarmLink has grown to an organization of around 150 volunteers, and has moved over 12 million pounds of food across forty states. FarmLink can’t pay the wholesale cost of the produce, says head of Farms Team Cooper Adams, 21, but they cover the pick-up and pack-up cost, the cost of harvesting the food and preparing it for transit.
For the team at Food Recovery Network, it was natural to help their volunteer network pivot. “There’s a whole other host of ways they can stay active,” says Anderson. They can be advocates in their communities, work with businesses to conserve waste, or participate in the gleaning effort on farms.
For the college students I spoke with, the opportunity to make an impact through food recovery is thrilling. When I asked Adams if it’s difficult to find the time for FarmLink while doing schoolwork he responded:
“The real question is do I have time to do schoolwork in between FarmLink.”