As COVID-19 has devastated the U.S. economy, it’s intensified serious problems in the national food system – problems that Stanford students are working hard to address.
In recent months, shuttered restaurants, stores and schools have canceled contracts with many farmers who, lacking a market and method of distribution, have been forced to throw out their surplus food. In the meantime, food banks across the country have become overwhelmed by a steep rise in demand as more and more Americans find themselves out of work.
“The farmers want to donate [their surplus food], but they can’t afford to take on the associated costs, like packaging and transporting it,” said James Kanoff, ’22.
Frustrated by the amount of food being wasted when need for it is so high, Kanoff and his friends, including fellow Stanford student Stella Delp, ’22, stepped up to help with a grassroots effort that started locally and has now garnered national attention.
The need to do something
“With so many things happening in the world right now that are problematic, we really felt a need to do something,” Kanoff said.
In March, the students returned to their hometown of Los Angeles where they recruited friends from other universities and created FarmLink. Since its launch, the organization’s volunteers have been working around the clock to reduce waste by purchasing surplus food from farmers before it’s plowed or dumped, then delivering and donating it to food banks hit hard by the pandemic. They purchase the food through donations.
They started locally, taking their first shipment to the Westside Food Bank in Santa Monica. The food bank had become overwhelmed with demand. Kanoff, Delp and the other volunteers managed to salvage 10,000 eggs from a local farm and, in just two days, deliver it to Westside. Two days later they shipped 50,000 pounds of onions.
“That was proof of concept,” Kanoff said. “Since then we’ve just tried to scale it up.”
In just two months FarmLink has quickly become a full-fledged charitable operation with more than 50 volunteers and numerous partner organizations, including Food Finders and Uber Freight. As the organization has grown, Kanoff and Delp have had to be strategic about how they organize volunteers and tackle each aspect of the operation. They’ve divided volunteers into teams working on everything from packaging to transportation. But Kanoff said the most challenging aspects are searching for food banks and matching their needs to farms with surplus food.
“Finding farms that are dumping produce takes an army,” Kanoff said. “It’s so hard to find them.”
Early on, Kanoff and Delp were doing a lot of the hands-on work themselves, like calling farmers and unloading trucks. But as FarmLink took…