Nonprofit links farmers with surplus produce with those in need

·2 min read

Food insecurity has been on the rise since 2018. So has the amount of food being wasted.

To address this issue, childhood friends Ben Collier, James Kanoff and Aidan Reilly launched The Farmlink Project, a student-led nonprofit that connects farms with surplus food to food banks in need, in the midst of the pandemic. It now operates out of a Los Angeles warehouse.

According to Reilly, farmers are growing enough to feed every person in the country and on the planet. "There's not a crisis of food insecurity in the United States, there's a crisis of indifference," he said.

Kanoff and Reilly have known each other since middle school and have worked together on tough projects.

"Part of the reason our friendship stayed really strong is because we always liked to do projects together. It was always annoying our parents," Kanoff said. "But then as we got older, it became something that actually was fruitful for us. Figuring out what it was we liked and what we wanted to do in the world."

For those who work the land, it's a heartbreaking dilemma. Quality food like lemons and papayas would end up in landfills, creating greenhouse gasses. "It plays one of the most significant roles in climate change," Reilly said.

"If food waste was a country, it would be the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions," Kanoff said.

Not only is it a problem for the climate, Collier said, but some farmers have to spend up to $80 a ton to throw away unused food.

One of the Farmlink Project's first farmers, Shay Myers, asked for help on TikTok. In the video, he said that he wanted to alert people to "one of the ramifications of COVID-19" and showed thousands of onions pilled up. The Farmlink Project connected Myers to food banks who needed his produce.

"Once we got that early delivery of onions from Shay Mayers, the photos and videos of that circulated very quickly," Kanoff said. The nonprofit received "hundreds of emails from people around the country asking how they could help."

Demand for food is constant, with rising grocery prices and double lines at food banks. Now operating in 48 states, The Farmlink Project hit a milestone this month — 50 million pounds of produce recovered, the equivalent of 42 million meals.

"It's satisfying to see how proud farmers are to be able to do that," Reilly said. "They take a lot of pride in their work, in feeding other people. The last thing they want is for their food to go to waste."

In March, the Congressional Medal of Honor society recognized Kanoff and Reilly with a public service award. In January, they were included in the Forbes 30 under 30 list. Now, they want to expand a paid fellowship program.

"If we're designing the future of our food system, it needs to be people from all walks of life," said Reilly.

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