In 2015, two University of Minnesota master in public health students were watching comedian Jon Oliver’s Last Week Tonight show.
During the show, Oliver bemoaned America’s food waste problem (we discard 730 football stadiums worth of uneaten food per year!), especially since one in eight Americans struggle to put food on the table.
Afterwards, the students — Sam Friedrichsen and Eva Weingartl — questioned how they could help solve the food waste problem. How could they take what they were learning in the classroom and apply it to the outside world?
Friedrichsen and Weingartl broached the topic with two other classmates — Hannah Volkman and Kelzee Tibbetts. The four friends hatched an idea: create a Twin Cities nonprofit that rescues food that would otherwise be discarded, then delivers it to food shelves around the metro.
Americans discard 730 football stadiums worth of uneaten food per year.
Like most ideas, the path to realization was rocky.
Initially, people told the friends that there wasn’t room for them in the Twin Cities food recovery system. “There was this myth that [the large food recovery organizations in our community] had it all covered,” says Tibbetts, who now works for Hennepin County Public Health. “That after they go out, there isn’t any more food waste.”
But with the support of grassroots organizations like the Food Rescue Alliance, the friends ultimately identified their niche: delivering food to smaller food shelves that often struggle to maintain an inventory of fresh produce.
The friends specifically chose to rescue fresh produce — and other nutritious, minimally processed foods like dense grains — because many low-income residents live in food deserts, areas where affordable, fresh food isn’t readily available. Later, they were also inspired by the 2017 Minnesota Food Shelf Client Survey, which showed that 93 percent of food shelf clients want to provide more fruits and vegetables to their families, and 90 percent know how to prepare them.
And so TC Food Justice was born.
In February 2016, the friends did their first rescue, picking up 23 pounds of produce from the Seward Co-op and bringing it to St. Stephen’s, a nonprofit that supports families and individuals experiencing homelessness.
Since February 2016, TC Food Justice has gradually ramped up their efforts. They rescued 12,030 pounds of food in 2016 and 25,061 pounds in 2017. They surpassed their 2017 total in the first 10 months of 2018 and are on track to rescue 40,000 pounds this year.
Some of these rescues have been done sustainably by a bike and trailer. “Food waste already contributes to greenhouse gas emissions all along the supply chain,” Tibbetts explains. “What we don’t want to do is put more cars on the road, and create even more environmental damage.”
In addition to sustainability, another tenet of TC Food Justice has been creating “food dignity” for the recipient. “We’re not giving recipients food that is overripe or that isn’t good enough to feed our own moms,” Volkman says, by way of example. Additionally, TC Food Justice encourages (and chooses to work with) hunger relief organizations that allow clients to choose what produce they bring home.
that lived in
houses in 2013,
Going forward, TC Food Justice is launching a pilot program called Priceless Produce and will partner with Minneapolis Public Housing Authority. They’ll bring fresh food directly to the public housing facility at Third Avenue Towers, allowing residents to access a “pop up grocery store” directly from their homes.
The partnership fits with the nonprofit's long-term goal of finding innovative ways to provide fresh food to individuals who have extra barriers to accessing the current hunger relief system. “Maybe they’re homebound or they’re disabled or they have uncertain documentation status,” Volkman says. “Meeting folks where they’re at is the next direction for us.”
In reflecting why this work continues to resonate with them, Tibbetts and Volkman referenced their own food experiences.
“Food is way more than health,” Tibbetts says. “It’s culture, community, holidays, and family. So many fun and playful memories come up when I think about food and eating with people I enjoy. Just knowing that many, many people have negative emotions when they think about food -- like uncertainty or fear about where meals are coming from -- and can't experience the joy that food can bring, that is what drives us to do this work.”
Written by: Lori Imsdahl
Pictures by: Selena Salfen (http://selenasalfen.com/portraits/)