On October 24th, the Food Recovery Network National Office attended the Mid-Atlantic Food Recovery Summit at Bowie State University. The Summit included speakers and panelists from different sectors all committed to reducing food waste. Those in attendance ranged from regulators and national nonprofits to small companies. Despite their differences, everyone was gathered together to share how they work to combat food waste. The FRN National Team greatly enjoyed the conversations of the day. We were all able to learn a tremendous amount about food waste reduction challenges and goal setting tactics. Please see below for a personalized account from each team member about the presentation or topic that they enjoyed most from the day.
Cassie Olovsson: Manager of External Partnerships
Within the first few minutes of the summit, keynote speaker, Tom O’Donnell of EPA Region 3 introduced a tiered approach of how to view food waste reduction goals. This approach would serve as a foundation for the day’s topics. He spoke to the fact that in order for food waste reduction goals to be met, both large, long term and daily, small-scale processes must be at work. With these wonderfully contrasting statements, Tom introduced an overarching theme that shaped how I went about the day. Within the various topics presented at the Summit, there were both large-scale opportunities for food waste reduction and food recovery improvement such as the National Restaurant Association’s efforts to reduce waste. Yet there were also more specific, detailed examples of how one business can make a difference, such as MOMs Organic Market’s effort to reduce and properly recycle waste. Food waste is a monumental issue crossing many sectors, industries, and countries. In order to combat this issue we must collaborate and look to one another to create numerous solutions, both big and small.
Dominique McMillan: Program & Outreach Fellow
Laura Cassidy from City of Philadelphia Department of Prisons gave a presentation that exemplifies how even a prison program can teach sustainable values, such as composting and urban gardening. In exchange for their commitment to the program, the inmates are considered for early release. The program also offers the inmates the opportunity to earn a vocational certificate from Temple University. Laura finds her work meaningful because she is able to instill positive, sustainable values in the inmates, who she lovingly dubs her “coworkers.” Those that get out of prison after completing the program frequently reach out to thank her for making an impact in their lives and teach them how to positively impact their communities.
Sarah Bellaire: Program & Evaluation Fellow
I found the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) presentation, given by Jeff Clark, to be the most thought provoking from the “Addressing Gap in Surplus Food Donation” panel. The NRA partners with over 500,000 restaurants in the United States. The NRA recently released their 2018 State of Restaurant Sustainability Report, which acts as litmus test for the current state of food recovery in the restaurant sector. The stats were astonishing; of the restaurants polled, 47% track their food waste and only 22% of restaurants actually donate their surplus food. However, the most surprising statistic was that only 31% of restaurants are aware of the liability protection laws for food donation; yet, liability was cited as the highest concern for why restaurants don’t donate their surplus food. This highlights the need for an extensive educational campaign in the restaurant sector if we want to improve food recovery.
Rob Hopp: Evaluation Associate
During the Summit’s “Food Recovery in the Agriculture Sector” breakout session, Lynette Johnson, from Society of St. Andrew, and Amy Cawley, from the Maryland Food Bank focused their presentations on gleaning. They discussed a variety of topics including what gleaning looks like for their organizations, the numerous struggles of both gleaners and farmers, and the impact that gleaning can have on reducing food waste. Lynette, Amy, and their respective organizations would be great resources for all of our chapters that are interested in gleaning. I know they would be happy to have volunteers!
Hannah Cather: Program Manager
Michelle Bennet, the staff advisor for the University of Delaware’s FRN chapter, believes in student leadership so much so that her presentation during the “Developing College and University Food Recovery Programs” was solely about how she supports the students leading the chapter. She supports her students by asking challenging questions, like “how will you handle consistently recovering food during stressful times of the year, like midterms?” She also holds them accountable to their project goals with questions like, “how’s that chapter handbook coming along?” Not every chapter is lucky enough to have such a supportive cheerleader, but now I have specific examples to share with other staff advisors.
Katie Aguila: Operations Associate
The Summit’s “Waste Reduction in the Hospitality Sector” breakout session brought together a diverse trio of speakers working to change the culture of food waste in hotels and other hospitality venues. The World Wildlife Fund, Hilton Hotels, and Astrapto LLC, a sustainability consulting firm based in Maryland, each gave insights into how they incentivize and implement food recovery initiatives in hospitality companies. I was struck by the differences in scope and scale of their food recovery initiatives, spanning multinational programs like Hilton Hotels’ Americas-wide Food Waste Pilot Program down to venue-specific initiatives like Astrapto’s work with the Baltimore Convention Center. Each organization is shifting our food culture towards waste reduction and food recovery, it reminds me that an equitable and just food system requires players of all sizes.
We want to thank Bowie State University and the Maryland Department of the Environment for hosting such an engaging and fun Summit! We were able to gain more knowledge about the ways other organizations are tackling food waste. We also made many meaningful connections and look forward to strengthening those relationships!