Utah State Blue Goes Green

“Gleaning is simply the act of collecting excess fresh foods from farms, gardens, farmers markets, grocers, restaurants, state/county fairs, or any other sources in order to provide it to those in need.” -USDA Gleaning Toolkit

In the Logan, Utah area, there are a variety of apple, pear, plum, and apricot trees that go unpicked each season. The fruit falls as it becomes too ripe creating heaps of wasted fruit. Instead of allowing this fruit to literally rot on the vine, a group of students and I wanted to start a gleaning team that would pick the excess fruit.

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As the Director of Food Recovery Network at Utah State University (USU), I researched gleaning projects across the country to understand how to begin one of my own. I was determined to implement a gleaning initiative at Utah State, and was hopeful in gaining funds to support this project. I reached out to the Food Recovery Network National Office to inquire about the FRN Gleaning Guide. I also looked into the USU Blue Goes Green (BGG) Grant program to acquire funding. 

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The BGG program allows students at Utah State University to apply for grant money to fund  sustainability projects that benefit students and reduce carbon emissions at our university. The BGG grant is required to address one of the Student Sustainability Grant focus areas: Waste Reduction, Sustainable Food Systems & Food Justice, Conservation & Renewable Energy, Air Quality, Reduced Carbon Footprint, Water Conservation, Green Building. Social & Economic Dimensions of Sustainability. This gleaning project fit perfectly into the Sustainable Food Systems category. It would provide opportunities for USU students to participate in the sustainability efforts on campus and it would educate students and faculty about food systems and food justice.

I applied for a BGG grant to purchase materials so we could begin gleaning this summer and continue into the fall. I had participated in gleanings before, so I knew what materials we would need, including: fruit pickers to retrieve fruit which grows near the top of trees, stackable crates to transport the fruit, and marketing materials to promote this project to tree owners and student volunteers.

First and foremost, my advisor, Brhianna, and I calculated the amount of materials we would need to accomplish the gleaning in the Cache Valley, near USU’s campus. We began with our budget spreadsheet, creating an outline of funds we would need. We determined the need for 4 apple pickers, 12 stackable crates, and marketing materials. After creating the budget spreadsheet, Brhianna and I began writing the proposal, which outlined the projects needs, description, outcomes, and who would participate and support this project. A few weeks after submitting the proposal and budget, we heard back from the BGG grant committee and were informed the Gleaning Grant was accepted and could be fully funded. Our vision is for the gleaning project to begin on August 24, 2019, and continue until the end of October, when fruit picking season ends. We plan to distribute ⅓ of the fruit to the tree owner, ⅓ to local food pantries, and ⅓ to the volunteers. To determine the impacts of the gleaning efforts, we plan on weighing the amount of fruit we pick each week and tracking the number of volunteers who attend each event. 

By providing an opportunity for students to pick fruit and engage with community members, they will gain a greater knowledge of the food waste problem and how university programs are combating this issue. It will be of great service to the community and an opportunity for students to gain fruit-picking experience. I look forward to beginning this gleaning project this fall and reducing food waste and feeding people!

Regional Summits: Bringing the Network Together

Programs Manager, Hc, Research & Outreach VISTA, Heather Banikas, by the “open trench.”

Programs Manager, Hc, Research & Outreach VISTA, Heather Banikas, by the “open trench.”

We (hc + Heather) are standing on the side of a wide road, not entirely sure where to go next. We flew across the country, from College Park, Maryland to Los Angeles, California. We drove 90 minutes east of the city to Claremont and parked the car beside an “open trench”. The instructions from Nicole, the Los Angeles County Regional Outreach Coordinator (ROC), tell us to find a gate which will set us on a path to the Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability. We see the gate on the other side of the street; we wait for a gap in the cars before scampering across the five lanes of traffic. Standing at the gate, we look at each other and push it open. It’s the last Saturday of April, and we’re headed towards the fifth and final 2019 Regional Summit. We know what to expect because we’ve seen the agenda, but we aren’t sure what exactly will happen once the attendees arrive, the ideas start flowing, and the action items get laid out. 

Let’s start a few months back. 

Minnesota Regional Summit attendees.

Minnesota Regional Summit attendees.

For those who are unfamiliar, let us take a few moments to talk about what it means to be a ROC. Regional Outreach Coordinators are student and alumni leaders who organize Regional Summits. Over a semester, the ROCs plan and host events for community involvement and student-to-student networking. Our journey began in early December 2018 with interviews for the 2019 ROC Cohort. Before that, the behind-the-scenes efforts included application creation and outreach. The hype grew and we, with the help of Google Hangouts, interviewed several prospective ROCs. The result was a cohort of nine energized FRNds who were to plan and execute five regional summits. Lizzie Massey and Elena Kapp covered the DC Metro Area. Will Bergstrom and Grace Liao collaborated between their two separate chapters in Minneapolis. Amanda Martinez held down Denver with the support of Dominique McMillan, FRN’s Program & Outreach Fellow. Roni Gabaldon, Tatum Flowers, and Skyler Adams joined forces in St. Petersburg. In Los Angeles, Nicole Pozzo planned logistics, while I (Heather) conducted long-distance outreach. Across the country, plans to bring members of the Network together for inspiring, engaging, and empowering summits quickly came to life.

Back to April 2019 in California.

It’s the end of a long day. Our brains are full, and we’re standing in a circle under the shade of a large tree. As a final activity of the Summit, I (hc) ask everyone to share something they’ll do in the days or weeks to come.

Minnesota Regional Outreach Coordinators, Will and Grace, with hc and Regina Anderson, Executive Director of FRN.

Minnesota Regional Outreach Coordinators, Will and Grace, with hc and Regina Anderson, Executive Director of FRN.

“Always be recruiting”

“Connect, pool resources”

“Become an official chapter”

“Celebrate with gratitude”


These were themes from all of the summits. At the DMV Summit, some students from a Chapter In Progress whose dining service provider won’t budge problem-solved tactics for approaching the dining staff with other students who have tackled the same issue. The attendees at the Social Sustainability Summit in Denver penned thank you notes for the staff at the University of Denver’s two partner agencies. In Minneapolis, we brainstormed volunteer recruitment tactics. One of which was to plan a large scale recovery soon after a tabling event, so that folks who expressed interest are able to see, firsthand, the scale of food waste and how easy it is to do something about that problem. The attendees of the Florida Summit formed small groups and illustrated mock magazine covers to think expansively around an ideal future of food recovery; it’s an exercise in visioning. 

DMV Regional Outreach Coordinators, Elena and Lizzie, with hc and Regina.

DMV Regional Outreach Coordinators, Elena and Lizzie, with hc and Regina.

Despite the geographical differences, individuals within those five communities all care about the same thing. We are connected in our dedication to sustaining and expanding the movement to more colleges, universities, and beyond. This is a movement of thousands of people from across the country fighting to reduce food waste and redistribute surplus food to their food-insecure neighbors. 

Now that the Regional Summits have ended and the ROCs have reflected on their experience, we look forward to what the future holds. We will be hosting regional events in California and Florida with applications opening in October. If you are not located in those locations, but have been inspired to host a regional event wherever you are located, we still encourage you to connect with us and fill out an application. Our strength lies in the people of this movement. One conversation has the possibility of striking an idea, developing a relationship, and encouraging change. Let's continue pushing against the status quo and creating spaces to do so.

How FRN Helped Me Discover the Value of Direct Action

This past semester, I had the wonderful opportunity to work with some incredibly driven and talented people at Food Recovery Network’s headquarters in College Park, MD. This experience was made possible by American University’s community service learning program. Through this program, I was able to receive academic credit in exchange for committing time to help a local organization that works with communities across the country. The goal of this program was to anchor what I was learning at an academic level in school to the issues people face in our communities. I focused my search on food insecurity and food waste prevention organizations. In a happy coincidence, a friend of my professor recommended Food Recovery Network (FRN). Once I reviewed their mission statement and saw the great work they were doing, I knew working for them would fit perfectly with my goals. So, I sent an email asking to have the opportunity to work with them and was quickly put in touch with Hannah Cather the Program Manager, or hc as she is known. 

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Together, she and I began to map out how I could help her team in their mission to promote food recovery and fight food waste. Very quickly, I learned that my expectations of what working in a non-profit office would be like weren’t accurate. Instead of negotiating with large food firms and lobbying for food reform, FRN focuses on ensuring that each individual chapter or chapter in progress (CHIP) is flourishing in their unique communities. My first job was to look over a slideshow presentation they had developed to explain FRN’s mission and their successes. Seeing the staggering amounts of food that had been collected, 3.8 million pounds in total, and the amount of meals that had been secured, 3.1 million, was quite impressive. It felt empowering to know that the work I was about to do would help ensure that food would go to hungry folks and not be left to rot in landfills. 

After this assignment, I began to develop infographics for chapters who were struggling to convince their school’s dining provider to work with them. By partnering with these groups, CHIPs and chapters access the largest amount of food on campus and are able to increase their impact on campus food waste. Additionally, I worked on creating infographics which sought to convince students with particular interests, like environmentalism and social justice, to look into FRN and join a local chapter or possibly to start one themselves. 

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The work wasn’t always fun, especially on days where much of my time was eaten up fixing formatting errors; my commute was an hour and a half there and back and was tiring. At times, I felt unsure if the work I was doing really helped forward the cause. But, whenever I felt off or frustrated about what I was doing, the same thought would return to me. I would pause to reflect on how the work I was doing went directly towards helping people. I would remember how it felt to be working with a group of kind and dedicated people on an issue that they all cared about deeply. The energy I saw from the Program Team as they supported others was motivating and therapeutic. I looked forward to going to work and experiencing that energy.

So far, my education at American University’s International Studies program has involved absorbing as much information as possible about the nature of the world’s issues and their scope. Studying genocides, the effects of climate change, and reading testimonies from victims of war, has, at times, caused me to feel a pit of existential despair grow within me. These past semesters, I have talked with some of my professors about how they manage to cope with this feeling, and none have ever given me an answer that felt complete. By far the most rewarding thing about working with  Food Recovery Network is the lesson that the solution to these feelings is to narrow in on one issue and do what you can to end it. When I read about the projections for the climate if drastic measures aren’t taken to remedy the damage we’ve done, I ease my dread by saying to myself, “While this issue is daunting and you don’t have the power to fix it, you are trying to help reduce our food waste, which fights emissions, and bring food to the hungry.”

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Having an anchor to ground one’s self is a truly invaluable tool, especially today where all the world's calamities are a few clicks or swipes away. An anchor isn’t just liking pages on social media. It requires tangible effort and targets a specific issue. Volunteering to feed the homeless, actively opposing bigoted policies through protest or organizing, and speaking up when the rights of your coworkers, friends, or even strangers are threatened, are all forms of direct action that push society towards a better future. The students in all the CHIPs and chapters of FRN know this, and through working at their organization, I have gained this knowledge too. And with it, I know that the despair that once weighed me down can not withstand the healing energy of direct and purposeful action. So thank you FRN, and keep up the good fight!

Kentucky Hunger Free Day

Food insecurity is a significant problem people face in the state of Kentucky. One in six Kentuckians identify as food insecure and one in five Kentucky children struggle with hunger. A food insecure household does not always have food on hand or enough money to go out and purchase food. People who are food insecure often do not know where their next meal will come from. These startling statistics led the Kentucky Association of Food Banks (now Feeding Kentucky) to organize an annual event known as Kentucky Hunger Free Day several years ago. A group from Bellarmine University consisting of Food Recovery Network members, leaders of the on-campus food pantry planning committee, and other concerned students and faculty attended this year’s Kentucky Hunger Free Day. The February 20th gathering marked the sixth year of this event and the first time that a group of Bellarmine University students, faculty, and staff attended the event. I attended as the president of Bellarmine’s Food Recovery Network (FRN) chapter and as a representative from the food pantry planning committee.

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We traveled to the state capitol building in Frankfort, Kentucky from Louisville for the event. The day was jam-packed with a variety of different ways people could get involved fighting the issue of food insecurity in Kentucky. Over the course of the day, our group attended meetings with Kentucky State Representatives, like Julie Raque Adams, and listened to addresses from government officials, like Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes. We also listened to speeches from leaders of organizations working to end hunger in the Bluegrass state. We attended a state Senate session in order to get a better understanding of the workings of our state government. 

It was very enlightening to network with new people and organizations and to explore the political side of food security issues. Our Food Recovery Network chapter deals mostly with local issues like food waste on campus and food insecurity in our immediate community, so it was also very helpful to see what is happening in the rest of our state. Kentucky is growing its number of FRN chapters, with the recent additions of the University of Louisville and Western Kentucky University, but we still have room to grow.

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This experience provided our FRN chapter with an incredible opportunity to network with other organizations that share our cause. It also provided us the chance to meet some of the people affected by food insecurity in Kentucky. We met with people from Dare to Care, who donate food to our on-campus food pantry. They talked about how excited they were for a college group to be there, which made our attendance all the more meaningful. One of the major policy issues we helped advocate for was removing the sales tax requirements being forced on Kentucky nonprofits, which pull money away from providing more food and resources to the people they serve.

One of the most special moments for me was when we heard Pastor Rob Beckett talk about how food insecurity affects the majority of his congregation. His church does all it can, but sometimes they need help from other groups. He explained that Kentucky Hunger Free Day offers a chance for him to network with other groups and share his story. He talked about the importance of the Farms to Food Banks program that Kentucky has, which incentivizes local farmers to donate fresh produce to food banks, thus benefiting all involved. Pastor Beckett said people’s faces light up when they get fresh food, and I thought this was so relevant to hear. I think it’s so important to provide people not just with food, but with fresh and healthy foods, and I was so happy to hear about this program. 

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Overall, this trip was an eye-opening experience that allowed our FRN chapter to branch out and learn more about the extent of the food security issue in our state and different political and economic avenues we could take to solve it. We definitely recommend taking advantage of an opportunity like this if you have one available in your state. If not, we encourage you to start a gathering of food security organizations in your state so you can share information, resources, and support, creating a stronger base for solving this issue. Kentucky Hunger Free Day is an example of a big step in the right direction towards fighting food insecurity.

Bringing Food Recovery to the Football Field

In the fall of 2018, the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s (UL) Office of Sustainability created a “Zero Waste” initiative as part of UL’s overall Sustainability Strategic Plan. This Zero Waste initiative started with the school’s home football games, where trash from inside the stadium would be diverted from the landfill. One focus of this project centered around recovering surplus food from football concessions. Large amounts of food from concessions end up in a landfill after each game instead of feeding many in need throughout the Lafayette community.

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Coordination, Partnering, Planning  

The first thing the team did was identify all key players for the food recovery within the stadium. We then made a food recovery plan that would be easily integrated within the existing stadium concession operations. We got the Head of Sodexo Stadium Operations on board, who contacted those in charge of the six concessions stands within the stadium. The Head of Catering let the workers and servers in the three press box levels and first floor catered food area in the stadium know about the food recovery. Lastly, Second Harvest Food Bank, our hunger-fighting nonprofit partner agency, who receives all of our donated food, was brought in so they could arrange a driver to pick up the food from the stadium after the football games ended.

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After all parties were engaged, the plan was to start collection as soon as the football game let out. Several steps were taken to set up the food recovery. The Second Harvest driver was scheduled to come collect the food about an hour after the game ended. Two to three other student volunteers and I (the president of the FRN chapter at UL) were designated to collect all of the food from the concessions. We planned to collect from the press boxes and catering first, since they were the first to pack up and leave. Once everything was packed up from catering, we went to the stadium gate to meet the Second Harvest driver. There we set up a station where we could load the recovered food onto the truck as we collected it. The other concession stands were instructed to package the prepared food, using their own packaging, and leave the food in the front of the concession stands for us to come around and collect. This made the collection run more efficiently because concessions had time to finish their closing procedures, while we collected from the press boxes.

Like most new and larger food recovery operations, we did not have everything completely ironed out at first. We really didn’t have this plan completely figured out until about the third football game. Thankfully, after working through the first three games, this recovery procedure began to really work for the food recovery team and stadium workers. We are now beginning to apply this food recovery plan to future athletic events.

Outcome and Impact

The impact of recovering food from UL’s football games was something completely unexpected. From the six home football games, we recovered a total of 2,072 pounds of prepared food, which went on to make 1,727 meals for local people in need. We averaged 345 pounds of recovered food per game. The most food the team recovered in one game was a total of 522 pounds. What started out as an initiative within the Office of Sustainability turned into an eye-opener for the faculty, staff, students, and Lafayette community attending these games. No one really understood the amount of food being wasted until it was physically seen being wheeled away from concession stands to the donation vehicle. This project made everyone aware of the environmental and community impact of food recovery. Because of the success of this initiative, we now have other university offices asking us about recovering food from more  athletic events and other events on campus, throughout the year. Being involved with this initiative is an amazing experience, and we hope this motivates other FRN chapters to plan something similar on their own campuses.