#FRNSpeaks: An Interview With Carleton College

Northfield, Minnesota is home to the outstanding Food Recovery Network (FRN) chapter at Carleton College. The chapter has seen tremendous growth since its founding in 2013; since then, the number of partner organizations has grown from one to five, and the number of food rescues went from one per week in one dining hall to two per day in two dining halls. In celebrating #FRN5Years, we wanted to highlight how this growth came to be at Carleton, and their plans for the future.


Mika Chmielewski, the current coordinator of activities for the chapter, regards Shira’s leadership as one of the main inspirations for her own work. Mika is one of a four-member team that currently runs the chapter, which has over 50 members. Coordinating so many people while maintaining a full course load constantly tests Mika’s leadership skills. A senior physics major, Mika modestly calls her work  “mainly logistics, moving containers between dining halls, helping volunteers if they can’t find something, bringing food to community partners.” According to Mika, “the work has pushed me far beyond my comfort zone in dealing with the myriad of situations that arise when coordinating so many moving parts and it has built my confidence as a leader and coordinator.”


Mika credits attendance at the FRN’s National Food Recovery Dialogue for helping to keep her motivated “while I’m carrying tubs of container lids across a snowy campus.” The people Mika met, together with the incentives gained from learning about other chapters’ remarkable projects have helped her keep focused on the importance of food recovery when everyday problems arise back on campus.


Mika also values FRN for providing “a great avenue for meeting community members with whom I would not otherwise have had a chance to interact.” She recalls one instance when she attended an event sponsored by one of the chapter’s partners, Northfield Food Shelf. There, she struck up a conversation about food justice in the Northfield community with a teacher, Cheryl Mathison. “That initial interaction sparked the idea for a collaboration between Ms. Mathison’s school and our chapter, resulting in her becoming one of our first partners. As a result of running a FRN chapter, I have been able to keep working with her and to connect with other partners.”


One such other partner is the afterschool program, Greenville Park Community School (GPCS), a public school serving nearly 50 percent of families classified as “low-income”.  When Carleton students make their Tuesday deliveries to GPCS, the chapter members become educators themselves as they “sell” food that may, at first glance, seem strange to the students. For example, they educate students on how delicious root vegetables such as turnips and rutabagas can be when prepared the right way. Mika says the students get excited to see what’s new on the menu, ask questions about the food, and are curious about the health benefits that the food provides. Typically, half the students — between 40 to 50— have a chance to write their names on the food containers they want to take home. Each container feeds at least one adult or two students. Parents that come to pick up the students are also welcome to pick cartons themselves.


Mika also credits Bon Appétit Management Company, Carleton’s food service, for being a supportive partner. From an operator’s perspective, Food Manager Katie McKenna has seen many benefits from the FRN partnership with Bon Appétit. The main one, she says, is that it “tunes the team into what they have been wasting. They watch lines closely to ensure that we have food for all of our guests, but they reduce production to actually help us save money.” Still, her employees provide enough recovered food for daily deliveries from two kitchens. Katie praises the students for consistently working with her staff and not interrupting the staff’s work. This helps make the FRN partnership “painless for a food provider to be enrolled in the program” as well as “a great way to interact with the students and community.”


Katie also values the opportunities that FRN students have provided in regards to personally connecting with the food recipients. One notable event was a recent luncheon that Katie helped the chapter organize for Whispers of Hope, a center for women in need of recovery from abuse and other trauma. She and the student leaders sat down with the clients of Whispers of Hope to share food and listen to each other’s stories. Hearing the women tell of the dramatic impact recovered food has made in their lives, as Katie explains, helped the Carleton Community “connect the dots” to get a better perspective on why their efforts are so important.

The Carlton College FRN chapter has helped make a dramatic impact on their community. Every year, they have extended the number of community partners they serve and the amount of food they deliver. Katie affectionately describes the students as “cool student foodies.”  And how do the students see their remarkable progress? As Mika recently stated, “Now that we have smoothed out many of our initial challenges — gaining access to the dining hall, obtaining a fridge, connecting with the larger community — we can focus more on outreach in order to include more of the campus in our recovery program.” Their highest hope is one voiced by many FRN members across the country — to establish a FRN chapter at every college and university in the United States. Mika hopes to help do it by 2020!