Q&A with the OCC Food Riders, Part 2

On Wednesday mornings and Friday afternoons, while many students at Orange Coast College are in class or planning for the weekend, a cohort of student leaders are preparing for their weekly food recovery rides. For seven years, the OCC Food Riders have become a fixture in Costa Mesa, California by delivering surplus food from the cafeteria on campus, to local nonprofit partners by bicycle. They load up trailers with food, both perishable and nonperishable, attach them to the back of their bicycles, and make the 3.5-mile trip to their nonprofit partners Share Our Selves and the Lighthouse Church of the Nazarene.

Orange Coast College is a two-year community college, and is where the Food Riders first started their journey, and still continues to be their homebase. Each semester, about a dozen Food Riders, who typically stick with the program for at least two semesters before they transfer out to university, embark on the route which they have made over 550 times.

Over e-mail, I spoke with Carl Morgan, founder and permanent faculty advisor of the Food Riders, as well as Roy Duvall, safety officer and treasurer. Carl and Roy discuss how the group came together, how they serve the Costa Mesa community and the keys to remaining a successful organization, which they hope to spread all over the country.

This is the second half of a two-part interview. Read part one here.

Are the Food Riders comprised of seasoned cyclists or are there many casual riders?

ROY: Few are seasoned street-riding cyclists, maybe 10%. Some are casual commuter cyclists that cycle to school, some have never ridden on a public street with vehicular traffic. About half do not own bicycles, and used one of the six folding bicycles available for Food Riders use. A few Food Riders assist with the food packaging only, and do not participate in the rides, usually due to heavy class loads.

A haul from one of the Food Riders' donation trips, with lots of peanut butter and canned proteins and vegetables.

A haul from one of the Food Riders' donation trips, with lots of peanut butter and canned proteins and vegetables.

In your handbook, you mention that you one of your goals is for potential Food Riders in other communities to adapt your framework. Has that happened yet? 

ROY: We run into other community volunteers donating perishable foods to the same food pantries that we serve. Some are not aware of ServSafe certification or good food handling practices, most do not know that they have protections under the Emerson Good Samaritan Act for Donated Foods. Before we knew of the existence of the FRN, we decided to publish a handbook intended for these community-based food recovery operations. With the assistance of a group of graduate students at University of Dallas, we published our Food Riders Handbook in 2015.

Have you connected with similar groups that have been inspired by your work?

ROY: We have presented by invitation at two academic conferences. The California Higher Education Food Summit (CHEFS) hosted at UC-Irvine in Jan. 2016, and the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference, hosted at CSU-Fullerton, in June 2016. Our Food Riders Handbook was a factor in both invitations.

What have been some challenges of sustaining your organization.

CARL: We really haven't had many challenges sustaining our organization. We have needed to stay focused on our core mission of delivering food twice per week, but we have a simple operation that is easy to maintain with a few committed people.

What are some of the lessons learned?

ROY: NEVER let a reference to us as a bicycle club stand. We are a food recovery organization. No, we are not "the bicycle club over at the college." We have flat terrain and good trails, so we transport by bicycle and trailer.

Rider-safety is paramount. I became an accredited League Cycling Instructor to become better qualified to be our safety rider. All of our riders are video-recorded from my handlebars and/or helmet. These videos are used for incident review, and deleted. They are also used to critique my performance as the rear safety rider. With student permission, video clips are published for special occasions.

We are a "poster child" for food recovery. Seven years is not a trial run. We are as "grass-roots" as a group can get. It is about the partnership with the OCC cafeteria and the food pantries, not the bicycles. Our mission is also to inspire others to act - food recovery at the zip code level is a national solution to hunger.

And my often-repeated punch line: If the OCC Food Riders can do this for seven years, with bicycles and trailers, every college campus in America con do food recovery. Lead from the front.

Did you make any resolutions for 2017?

ROY: Since you asked, yes. And you are the first to hear it. I intend to carry a Food Riders / FRN flag across the US, from California to Florida, on a cross-country cycling trip in the summer of 2018. I am working on the route now.

CARL: We hope to make a connection with a course in our OCC culinary program that specializes in proteins. The students in this class work with a different protein every Tuesday. The course instructor said that he would consider working with the Food Riders this year to provide some food for us to deliver to SOS on Wednesday mornings. We are excited about this possibility.

Thank you Roy and Carl for the great interview! Follow the OCC Food Riders on their journey on Facebook and on Instagram.