Tackling food waste while having fun? Check.
Redistributing food resources so that surplus can land on the tables of those who don’t have enough? Check.
Doing this armed ‘only’ of a bike and… a robot? Check.
As Robin-Hoodesque as this might sound, this project is real – and it’s called Boulder Food Rescue (BFR). Creative, responsive and passionate – as in the words of its own founders – BFR was developed in 2011 to help mitigate hunger in Boulder County (Colorado, US) by increasing the access of at-risk populations to nutritious food, while easing the food budgets of local non-profit organizations and individuals.
Today, BFR relies on a network of volunteers who, straddling their bikes, pick up food from groceries stores all across the county and redistribute it to people in their community. Taclking waste, saving money and helping the environment – all at once.
We’ve interviewed Hayden Dansky, executive director at BFR, who has told us some of the secrets behind the success of the project.
How did it all start?
“BFR started in 2011, when Caleb (Phillips) and Becky (Higbee), and their fellow researcher at the University of Colorado Rhonda Hoeningman, did some research into the topic of food availability and waste within their community. Soon, we (Caleb and Becky were joined by other co-founders Nora Lecesse, Helen Katich and Hayden Dansky) discovered that enough food is thrown away or otherwise wasted each day to feed everyone who goes hungry in Boulder and Broomfield Counties.
“After reaching out to our local grocers, we learned that much of the surplus produce they store can’t be donated to food banks because the food is too perishable or because of policy restrictions – thus causing for thousands of pounds of nutritious food to be thrown away every day.
“Together with Ideal Market, our first donor, we developed systems that allowed them to provide direct, just-in-time delivery of perishable food, thereby helping to mitigate hunger in Boulder County. We started by providing a meal in the park under the name Food Not Bombs (FNB). Soon, it was discovered that the meal we served was the healthiest in Boulder, and those who were taking part in FNB also said we were different because ‘we sat down and ate with them’. Focusing on healthy food and building relationships with our community became crucial values that we still hold in our work in allowed to drastically grow our network over time.
“Now we have around 80 shifts a week, done by about 150 active volunteers, who distribute about 10,000 pounds of food every day of the week, by bicycle.”
How does BFR work in practice?
“We establish relationships with grocery stores which have produce that would otherwise be wasted. We pick up from stores every day, but different volunteers will sign up for a shift that works for their schedule. They go to the store, pick up the bike and trailer locked up at the store and then go to the loading dock. There they sort through the food and take the good produce, and the actual bad produce they put in the compost. Then they take that to a designated recipient site.
“We have relationships with about 36 different recipient sites in Boulder. Some are non-profits that already distribute food, like food pantries and homeless shelters. The rest are what we call ‘no-cost grocery programs‘: from low-income housing sites to day cares, where residents are running their own no-cost grocery programs by sorting and distributing the food amongst their neighbors. We also have 13 food rescues within our network currently using our Food Rescue Robot, an innovative way to facilitate our pick-ups.”
Food Rescue Robot: how does it work?
“It is a web app that manages our day-to-day logistics. Through the robot, our partner organisations create their own schedule, track data and manage the logistics around the collections and distributions. Volunteers who sign up through the robot are able to see the current collection schedule for a certain region and sign up for the shifts they want to cover. They can also access information about how to do the shift, enter data (i.e. pounds of food rescued), send messages to coordinators (“bike broke!”) and see their own personal stats of how much food they redistribute.”
How does BFR contribute to tackling food waste?
“To date we have redirected 2,312,058 pounds of good food from landfills to hungry bellies in the city of Boulder. This is an awesome start, but there’s so much more to be done.
We have helped over 11 other organisations start food rescue’s across the country and world.
“Keeping with our commitment to sustainability, in the last month only our hardworking volunteers have achieved to perform 65% of food pick-ups using human-powered transportation (i.e. bikes). And, since BFR began, 81% of all pick-ups, regardless of weather conditions, have been performed with bikes.
“So, what is really interesting about BFR – apart from the obvious redistribution of food and pledge to tackle waste – is the fact that we are engaging thousands of people in our community in the larger conversation about food waste, innovative solutions, information sharing, and being an active voice in policy and education.”