Episode 156: Jacob Dudley and Rani Zimand

6/11/2021

By Lori Taylor

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Jacob Dudley, a student at the University of Wisconsin Madison studying economics and environmental studies, and Rani Zimand, a student at the University of Washington studying food systems, nutrition and health, are both co-leaders for the Farmlink Project. More than a project, this is a movement that was started by college students in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to help fight food insecurity through repurposing surplus produce.

When COVID-19 hit and many food suppliers, like restaurants, were forced to shut down, the crops that farmers had planted to supply those restaurants didn’t have anywhere to go. On one hand, there were huge lines at food banks, but on the other, farmers were throwing away all their produce. Farmlink originally aimed to make the supply chain more efficient, but now they’re on a mission to solve this problem completely, so much so it even says on their website their goal is to put themselves out of business!

The Farmlink Project got started with founders James and Aiden who saw what was happening and just felt helpless. They rented a U-Haul pickup, grabbed some eggs from a farm and drove it to their local food bank. After that, they were off to the races.

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How does The Farmlink Project work? The organization contacts farms across all 50 states and has quickly become a nationwide organization thanks to their start online. First, the farms team, which Ronnie is a co-leader of, is the first point of contact with all farms and producers in the network. They do the initial outreach and managing of current relationships and partnerships on the production end. After connecting with someone who might have a surplus or unmarketable produce, a price point and donation agreement will be negotiated, then passed off to the logistics team. The logistics team finalizes the deal and organizes the transportation, and then passes it to Jake’s team, who places the food.

The project, which involves 99% fresh produce, but on the rare occasion milk and eggs, is continually doing research to keep up-to-date data on unemployment rates, food insecurities and calculating the  distance food has to travel to make sure it’s ending up in locations that need it the most. The relationship will be developed and eventually handed off to the logistics team.

Food insecurity was in decline before the pandemic. Around 13.7 million households, or 35 million people, faced food insecurity in 2019. That number rose to over 50 million when COVID-19 hit in 2020.

It’s truly astonishing what the project has been able to accomplish. For example, it took only one month for the project to move one million pounds of produce. At the end of 2020 they had moved 20 million pounds and as of March 11th, 2021, they’ve moved 27,301,053 pounds worth of fresh produce. All of that has been possible with a team that’s made up of 90-95% full-time volunteers that are college students!

The Farmlink even partnered with Chipotle for a Roundup campaign where anyone that ordered on Chipotle’s app were able to round up their order amount to the next dollar which would be donated to the Farmlink Project.

“While 27 million is a huge number and hard to wrap my head around, it’s just a drop in the bucket. Over 70 billion pounds of produce is wasted in the United States each year, over 20 billion of that is on the farm level and we have a long way to go.” – Rani Zimand (21:35-21:51)

There’s plenty of ways to get involved even if you aren’t able to volunteer full-time. The first way is through Farmlink’s weekly power hours which involve researching and calling farms to see if they have produce to donate. Other indirect ways include volunteering at a local food bank or farm, and if you don’t have time but still want to get involved, you can donate or set up your own fundraising campaign on The Farmlink Project’s website. Of course, you can always follow and share their content on Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok to stay up to date and spread the word about this great mission.

How to get involved

  • Join The Produce Moms Group on Facebook and continue the discussion every week!
  • Reach out to us – we’d love to hear more about where you are in life and business! Find out more here.

If you liked this episode, be sure to subscribe and leave a quick review on iTunes. It would mean the world to hear your feedback and we’d love for you to help us spread the word!

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Lori Taylor

Author: Lori Taylor

Lori Taylor is the Founder & CEO of The Produce Moms. For ten years she sold fresh produce to over 300 grocery stores throughout the United States, and today she is fully focused on working with the produce supply chain, media, and government to increase fresh produce access & consumption in the US and around the globe. Connect with Lori on LinkedIn.

View all posts by Lori Taylor

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