GreenStar Community Projects hosted its 20th Networking Session on Monday July 10, 2017, in collaboration with Friendship Donations Network, Recycling and Materials Management of Tompkins County, and Cornell Cooperative Extension. Entitled “Waste Less Food, Feed More People!,” this event was focused on preventing food waste in Tompkins County and utilizing good food by channeling it to sources that can distribute it to anyone who is hungry. Tompkins County Public Library graciously donated a room for the networking session, attended by approximately 60 people. Participants were provided with a spread of food, including vegan ratatouille, turkey meatloaf, pesto, bread, and salad, all made of ingredients recovered from GreenStar Co-op, Cornell Dining Services, and Wegmans and prepared by volunteers at the Cornell Cooperative Extension kitchen. Notes from this event, as well as outcomes, will be publicly accessible by the end of the summer on http://HotPotatoPress.org, the website for food news and networking in Tompkins County, NY launched by GreenStar Community Projects.
GSCP’s networking session was opened by Barbara Eckstrom, of Recycling and Materials Management of Tompkins County, who outlined the functions of this agency, which include managing neighborhood food scrap drop spots and offering home composting kits. She also showed a short video, created by Tom Hoebbel, about how leftover scraps in the fridge can come together to make a cohesive, tasty meal.
The core of the event revolved around Meaghan Sheehan-Rosen’s presentation about Friendship Donations Network’s food recovery work, inviting those interested to get involved. FDN is a local nonprofit that collects food waste from grocery stores, bakeries, farmers, food hubs, Ithaca College, and Cornell University to distribute these foodstuffs to food pantries, hot meal programs, and other nonprofits in need. Meaghan explained that, thanks to FDN’s extensive formal and informal relationships to organizations and people, food picked up finds a home within the matter of a few hours. Because of this, even perishable food can be recovered. Distribution is entirely volunteer-based. Many of their networking connections date back 30 years to the ground-breaking work of Sara Pines. With her initiative, FDN was born, and works closely with many food pantries, including Loaves & Fishes.
In addition to rescuing good food that would otherwise get inadvertently wasted in large-scale food service, FDN runs a food hub program to divert personal food from becoming unnecessary waste as well. Folks can drop leftover produce at organized neighborhood food hubs, hosted by citizens on various front yards and porches. Such healthy offerings create additional contributions to food pantries and other nonprofits.
Following the informational presentations, participants and speakers divided into five themed breakout groups to discuss ideas and action steps. Folks talking about recovering waste from farms agreed there is a need for a harvest connection to make gleaning (gathering leftover produce on the fields after a harvest) a long-term contribution to alleviating hunger. Ithaca College and Cornell are a possible resource for student volunteers looking for experience off-campus. Farms could also lease or donate spare parcels of land to people to grow their own food, and pantries could begin growing small gardens in town (an enterprise recently begun by GreenStar Community Projects and Loaves & Fishes). Finally, the Pay It Forward program initiated by the Downtown Ithaca Alliance (DIA) was pegged as a possible model for compensating farmers for their leftover produce while generating a collection of free local produce.
Participants discussing distribution issues decided that further promotion of FDN could help attract more volunteers to pick up and deliver, and could generate further interest for people to host food hubs within the city of Ithaca and surrounding areas. Promotion targeting rural communities could manifest as fresh campaign signs along rural bus routes, and advertisement on local radio stations and on the sides of buses. This group also agreed that events like this very networking session tend to attract homogenous groups, and work needs to be done to cultivate broad and diverse relationships and conversations.
Action ideas about residential food waste and recovery included finding delivery for individuals as an alternative to going to the food pantry, as a way of combating long lines at pantries and lack of transportation. Folks suggested that food pantries could benefit from support and development. They also considered ways to prevent food waste at home, including instructional games, education about expiration dates, and making drop spots and food hubs easily identifiable and accessible for those with leftover food.
Other action ideas focused on education, incentive programs, and policy. Incentives could include taxes on businesses that waste too much, tax breaks for businesses that waste little, and certification for local businesses to use in their own promotions. Tompkins County needs to develop food goals and devote resources toward them. Finally, the Food Policy Council needs fresh energy and purpose, including implementing action steps proposed in earlier networking sessions.
Anyone looking to obtain more information about this networking session or to get involved with any ongoing programs or action ideas can contact Holly Payne at firstname.lastname@example.org .