In recent months, Brown students have led national food redistribution efforts to help agriculture whose supply chains are normally disrupted.
With the COVID-19 pandemic limiting business, declining demand from restaurants and shops makes selling products difficult for commercial agriculture, generating large amounts of waste. At the same time, food banks across the country experienced a significant increase in demand. FarmLink, a non-profit food redistribution initiative that was started and run in part by University students, bought excess products from farmers and sent them to the food bank to minimize waste and offer support in times of economic uncertainty.
This initiative was founded by Aidan Reilly ’21 and James Kanoff, a student from Stanford University, in April, initially through a financial contribution from friends and family. Now, he has volunteers from several universities across the country and fiscal sponsors from Food Finders, a food rescue organization based in California, which helps FarmLink increase donations of money. According to the initiative’s mission statement, “100% of donations to FarmLink are used to pay the wages of agricultural workers and truck drivers.”
After reaching out to farm to determine interest, FarmLink offered to buy the excess product and bring it to the food bank. according to them website, a non-profit has sent 570,000 pounds of food and provided $ 35,000 in economic assistance to farmers. For agriculture without means of transportation, FarmLink also found truck drivers and trucks to deliver the results in collaboration with Uber Freight.
“The big problem now is that there is a separate system where restaurants (get) food … even though it’s just food and move from agriculture to the table,” said Duke DiEugenio ’21, 5, member of the FarmLink media team. “Gardens can’t just magically say, ‘Okay, it’s time to sell this to the grocery store or donate it,’ … because they don’t have the infrastructure built.”
Jessy Ma ’21, who initially joined FarmLink as part of the technology team, told The Herald “many farmers were forced to resort to disposing of all their surpluses. “FarmLink hopes to overcome” a clear gap between the tons of food that will be wasted (and) the hunger that accompanies it, especially among vulnerable populations. “
While FarmLink can eliminate a lot of leftovers, it will be more difficult to do it for expensive items such as cheese, or organic fruits and vegetables. “It’s a bit sad when there are farms that do have advantages, so we have to refuse because the price they charge is not affordable for us,” Ma said. “We have to limit our work to agriculture that has a large surplus and can therefore charge lower prices for it.”
Working for FarmLink not only gives students the opportunity to help others, but also helps them gain professional work experience in the nonprofit sector. “I am somewhat aware that I really like nonprofit work, or that feeling is a very grassroots effort,” Ma said. “Being able to contribute to something that makes a large-scale impact” is very satisfying.
“I concentrate on architecture and a lot of my work is centered on urban planning, (and) food and environmental systems,” DiEugenio said. “So, the fact that I have to go with this is very pleasant.”
Because FarmLink was created to meet the current needs created by the pandemic, the future of long initiatives has not yet been determined. According to Ma, FarmLink seeks to focus on the present with the hope that they lay the foundation for similar initiatives in the future. Ma said that they hoped to do “basic work and organize this system where people can continue this work.”
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