How Farmlink is Turning Food Waste into Food Security | Aidan Reilly

How Farmlink is Turning Food Waste into Food Security | Aidan Reilly

The pandemic has put the issue of food insecurity into full view. So many families struggled to get the food they needed this last year, and the number in need is only rising. While people are going hungry, farms are being forced to throw away billions of pounds of wasted produce, dairy and eggs. How can we turn food waste into food security?

WELCOME TO THE DARIN OLIEN SHOW

20 Billion pounds of farm produce are thrown away each year, while 40% of Americans are experiencing food insecurity.

These two facts instantly became connected in 23-year old Aidan Reilly’s mind when he first learned of them at the pandemic’s start. After being sent home halfway through his junior year of Brown University due to Covid-19, Aidan saw something that sparked his interest and pulled him out of his funk. 

After reading a news article and doing further research, he was surprised to learn that farms were throwing away mountains of produce while the national food insecurity crisis spiked. Instead of sitting on that information, he gathered a group of friends and began cold calling farms around the Los Angeles area looking for surpluses. He then rented U-hauls to transport the extra food to local food banks. His efforts eventually turned into The Farmlink Project. The project has moved over 40 million meals in almost every state and won Aidan and his co-founder James Kanoff the 2021 Congressional Medal of Honor Citizen’s award for Service. 

This conversation with Aidan made me so happy because it represents a story of young people recognizing a problem, finding a solution and then taking action. We need so much more of that, especially now. This episode is all about the hidden truths of food insecurity and how it may look different than you expect. Anyone can be vulnerable to going hungry – anyone. The pandemic has made that abundantly clear. But what it has also made clear is that regular everyday people can get involved, and make a big difference. 

ALSO IN THIS EPISODE:
  • [00:07:06] How Farmlink came to be
  • [00:12:38] The conversation with the very first farmer
  • [00:15:14] Myths about food insecurity
  • [00:22:43] What to do about food waste
  • [00:28:00] The role food banks play in helping communities
  • [00:35:00] Making healthy choices available
  • [00:43:12] How to get involved
LINKS: 

The Farmlink Project

Get Involved and Donate to Farmlink

The Farmlink Project on all social media – @farmlinkproject

Try Vivo, the best shoes on the planet and the next best thing to going barefoot. Get 20% off with code DARIN20.

Purchase Barukas Nuts for 20% off with code DARIN

Episode Transcript

Darin: You are listening to the Darin Olien Show. I’m Darin. I spent the last 20 years devoted to improving health, protecting the environment, and finding ways to live a more sustainable life. In this podcast, I have honest conversations with people that inspire me. I hope that through their knowledge and unique perspectives they’ll inspire you too. We talk about all kinds of topics, from amping up your diets to improving your well-being to the mind-blowing stories behind the human experience and the people that are striving to save us and our incredible planet. We even investigate some of life’s fatal conveniences, those things that we are told might be good for us but totally aren’t. So here’s to making better choices in the small tweaks in your life that amount to big changes for you and the people around you and the planet. Let’s do this. This is my show, the Darin Olien Show.

Darin: Hey, everybody, welcome to the show. This is Darin Olien. This is The Darin Olien Show. Man, the world is throwing a lot of stuff at us. We have the power, we have the possibility of being better, being greater humans, being better of ourselves, and that’s why we’re here to be better versions of ourselves. And let’s hear from this incredible entrepreneur, Aidan Reilly. I want you to tune into this. He’s 23 years old from LA, and he was at Brown University. And of course, yet again COVID-19 comes and spoils his junior year where he had to leave school during the pandemic. And he realized during this whole thing that farms were throwing away mountains of food, thousands of pounds of food that were just wasted. And also at the same time, we have food insecurity where people do not have access to healthy food. We’ve talked about that in other episodes with Sean Stephenson and Dan Buettner. And now yet again, we have all this abundance of food, and we’re throwing it away. So Aidan literally started calling farmers and we’re going to get into all this and realize that hey, are you throwing away food? And yes, we are. So he started this incredible company called farmlinkproject.org and he got food to food banks and other opportunities where people could distribute whole healthy food that was going to waste. And the startling statistic is in a year, this guy and this project and all of the incredible volunteers saved 40 million meals from being wasted. Come on, are you kidding me? These efforts were rewarded in July when Aidan and his fellow co-founder James Kanoff were granted the Congressional Medal of Honor Citizens Award for service. Yay! Can you hear the crowd? Come on, let’s celebrate that. So when you would say that one person can’t do a lot, bullshit, you can. So please know that you can do that. So one person can do a lot because it creates a magnet for other people to get involved and to create change. And Aidan and his co-founder, James, created that very thing and they saved 40 million pounds from going to waste helping the environment and helping people have health. Incredible. But before we get into this episode, I just want to say that Vivobarefoot that is sponsoring this episode, I have gotten to know them inside and out. I have gotten to meet the farmers that they’re working with, the head of sustainability, Emma. And Vivobarefoot not only produced the best feeling footwear on the planet, period. And I would say that whether they’re a sponsor or not. They’re also one of the most sustainable, conscious companies out there. Everything that they’re looking at is sustainable, where their materials are coming from using algae, using sustainable rubbers, everything they’re doing they’re doing it with eyes wide open while producing the greatest shoe. I literally wear the shoes. And I’m like, thank God, someone produced a shoe where I don’t feel like I have a shoe on restricting the way the foot needs to move and has to move. If your foundation is not strong and effective, your whole body’s off. So I just want to say that I am so proud to have Vivobarefoot as a sponsor and so proud of what they have done in the footwear industry. Later in the episode, you will get the discount code of 20% off, support them as they support you, and the best shoes ever. Alright, so let’s get into it. Check out Farmlink. Get involved with farmlinkproject.org getting people healthy food, and helping the environment. This is literally something you can do and volunteer because they’re a nonprofit doing great work. So sit back, relax, enjoy my great conversation with co-founder of Farmlink, Aidan Reilly.

Darin: Hey, thanks, man. This is a really cool topic and project and mission that you started. I bumped up against this and became aware of food waste, insecurity, this past year in my face in a good way. And so I’m really stoked to hear how you got going, and the effectiveness that you’ve been having because I’ll just say I’ll start, I’d love to see how I can help you and push this mission forward because it’s a really, really big deal. So thanks for jumping on.

Aidan: No, thank you. I appreciate all those words.

Darin: So let’s just go through that little where challenges become opportunity situations where you’re in school, COVID happens, and then boom, how did this all happen and why food? And how did you organize that?

Aidan: I can preface by saying I had no background in agriculture or freight. I’ve grown up volunteering at food banks but that was it. We didn’t know what we were doing. We just got sent home from school, and it felt like to myself and then other co-founders, James Kanoff, as well as some of the other early members like Ben Collier, and Will Collier, and Jordan Hartzell. We all sort of felt like we were just getting a huge influx of bad news at the time. All we could do is just sit in our houses and look at our phones and hear about the next horrible thing that was happening and couldn’t do anything about it, couldn’t help in any way. So it started with me on like my 10th night in a row just sitting in bed reading articles and feeling more and more depressed. I read an article about the New York Times supply chain breakdowns and farmers having to throw out all of their food that they’re going to send to schools and business parks. And when the contracts got suddenly slashed, and you’re seeing photos of mountains of potatoes and mountains of produce and eggs being thrown into the ground. And that same day, I had spoken to a food bank that I grew up volunteering at in Los Angeles that was saying that they’d gone from 300 families a week to 1,300 families a week and they’re running out of food. So initially, it was just this connection of those seemed like two problems that could probably solve each other, one has too much food and they don’t know what to do with and the other doesn’t have enough. So it was, in the beginning, like let’s just see if we can connect these in and around LA and get it to the food bank in Santa Monica that I grew up at.

Darin: You’re talking like a country of people here too so it’s exciting from that point of view. And also, I think what you spoke on which I don’t want to throw under the rug or miss it in that you did something really powerful. Aside from what you did, you started learning, you started reading, you started educating yourself, then you start connecting dots, and then you started taking action. So regardless of what people are doing right now, there is a world in which they can contribute to the world and not just sit back on the heels and hope that this pandemic solves itself, which clearly, it’s not. And it’s clearly all over the place in terms of its challenges. So I just want to say kudos to you because it’s an easy spiral that can pull people down into kind of oblivion and not kind of lift yourself up and find a solution. Taking action on that should be applauded. So I just want to say thank you for doing that. And you’re supposed to finish college, you’re just like the whole frickin thing just got thrown up in the air. And then seeing those two big scenarios where we’re literally throwing food away, and there are literally people needing it. I mean, COVID or not, it’s absolutely happening all over the place. So how did you go from connecting a couple of dots to be like, wow, this is an opportunity to really get some people and resources behind this?

Aidan: I think we did ourselves a favor by recognizing what we didn’t know. And just by breaking it down. There are such big issues that I think if we started with the goal of let’s move food in all 50 states, let’s move trucks with 40,000 pounds of produce, we would have never gotten off the ground. The line, in the beginning, was let’s just do one truck, one farm, one food bank because we might not know anything about anything right now but I bet we could figure that out. And then when we get that, let’s go for a second, and then let’s go for a third. And so that’s how we parcelled it out at the beginning, and that made things more simple. Let’s start with Los Angeles and then we’re going to need to fundraise so let’s make a website. And then maybe to get people to the website, we’ll make an Instagram and put the message out there. And then when we did that, turns out there’s a whole hell of a lot more people, not just people our age, but all sorts of people who wanted to help in the ways that they could. So two weeks in, I think the positive message of us just doing what we could really started to resonate with people. And we got mentioned in a New York Times article. And then suddenly, we had hundreds and then thousands of emails of people saying, “Hey, can I come help volunteer?” “Hey, I have a truck, can I help drive this produce for you?” “I have a vegetable farm at my house, do you want to take some of this?” And that’s when it got very real. And we were like, okay, maybe we can turn this into like a movement?

Darin: How do you not celebrate the human spirit when it comes to that stuff? Because when it’s very clearly defined, there’s a need, and there’s an opportunity to fill that need, and it’s literally just a system breakdown. That’s what I’m kind of infinitely aware of, as I looked. I mean, this is an oversimplification, but as I look at all of the issues in the world, it’s really systems that are failing it. So in this instance, as you know, we actually have more than enough food to feed everybody on the planet plus a few other billion that aren’t here yet. I’m so curious, the first farmer that you connected with who was in the one hand needing to destroy their food because there was no outlet for it. And then you coming in saying, no, no, no, I have a place for that. So talk to me about that situation when you went to that farmer and what that was like in order to then deliver it to the food bank. Describe to me, that had to be an amazing feeling.

Aidan: Yeah, it was the way you’re talking about it, just being this system breakdown. I thought absolutely once we got a farmer on the phone who had surplus food, there would be like a million miles of red tape. And we needed to have this form and this legality and this thing and that thing in order to get the food moved. But it was as simple as once we got someone on the phone, who was a farmer in Van Nuys, ran a warehouse, had a bunch of eggs into Los Angeles, we get moved through. He was like, “Yeah, I’ve got them. You can have them because I’m going to throw them out, but I have no way of getting it to you.” So we’re like, it’s that simple, really? And then the second delivery we did was a whole truckload of onions from this farmer, Shay Myers, who we still work with up in Oregon. And it was the same thing. He was like, “Yeah, I’m throwing out millions of pounds of these every day. And I’m putting it on Tick-tock, I’m putting on YouTube, I’m telling people this is happening. And the food banks close to me are all filled up. I want people to have them. I don’t want to throw these out.” So we figured out how to get a truck from there down to California or down to Los Angeles. So what I’m saying here is it was like a shock at the beginning. I think growing up always had this idea that these systems were way more impenetrable and way more complex than maybe they actually were. And it just took reaching out and talking to someone being like, what’s your problem and how can we help solve that? And that’s still what we do and all the student volunteers we have. That’s like their opening line every time they get on the phone.

Darin: I love that. And it goes to show if you don’t do anything about it, nothing changes. And if you actually put some intelligence and energy into something, anything is solvable. And I love the fact that you just did it anyway. And getting those kinds of first wins got to feel really good. So let’s define a little bit. I mean, there’s food waste, there’s an environment but there are people literally without food. And we can see them all over LA begging for food and money and everything else. So there are people without food, and then there are people that don’t know where the food’s gonna come from, how they’re going to get it. So describe to me and to our listeners, what food insecurity is, what are the parameters of that?

Aidan: It can be such a sort of convoluted term when you say all these millions of people are food insecure. It’s like, what does that mean? I know what hungry means. Food insecure, essentially, the definition means you don’t know where your next meal is gonna come from, You may have the means to put food on the table, but you’re living paycheck to paycheck, and you’re having to scrape together nickels and dimes to feed your family. And that is why it’s insecurity. Insecurity in the sense that you might know what’s going to be on the table for Tuesday and what your three kids are going to eat, but not Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday, and you don’t know how you’re going to get the money to get that. And if one thing were to happen, one thing was to go wrong like we’ve seen a billion times in this last year if you had a sudden layoff, if you had a sickness in the family, then you might not be prepared to handle that and your family could go hungry. And that’s a dramatic scenario that we’re seeing 40% of Americans deal with right now.

Darin: 40%, has that gone up obviously, since COVID too?

Aidan: Yeah, it spiked. And in dealing with these issues, it’s always an interesting thing. I find myself like naming statistics, things like 20 billion pounds of food going to waste, 1/3 of all food grown going to waste, 54 million Americans things like that, which are very big numbers but they’re extremely hard to visualize and extremely hard to personalize and understand, even for me. So it was important even though we’re in the pandemic and to be at home for us to get our volunteers to go out to their local food bank, and volunteer and help because that’s when you actually get to understand what we’re doing when you see a line of 1,000 families around the block. And these are people who look just like you and me because they are just like you and me. That’s a humbling experience and it kind of puts yourself more in touch with what you’re doing if you’re volunteering for the farming project because so much of that can end up just you being behind a phone or behind the screen. So we want people to go at least once a month to go and help actually pass up for themselves and provide that like physical volunteer work.

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Darin: That’s a very important aspect I think to all work almost if you can have an inner connectedness to what you’re doing and the effect that it’s having. And with this day and age and digitalization, it’s harder and harder to do that, but the human spirit of being able to literally change someone’s life in a gnarly time that you can’t judge someone at the time because any one of us that could be us. And then having COVID and all of these other things just give it this unprecedented other angles. You can’t just take someone out who felt somewhat secure in their paycheck to paycheck and all of a sudden boom, they don’t have it. I see the failure of systems, why is this even a thing? Why aren’t we putting resources? At a certain point, I stopped asking why it’s ineffective, it’s just not being done. So we as, in this case, Americans and seeing a problem, you just do it and get it done. And I think that’s the epitome of sovereignty is the epitome of our freedom to maybe like, listen, this is a problem, this is a solution, let’s create a new system. And if I think nothing speaks to that more than right freaking now. We’re seeing failures across the board of all kinds of things, but we have to literally create the world that we want to see.

Aidan: We can get really, really tired of hearing about all these failures. And some of them are much bigger, much more complex than others. It is exhausting to just hear about it and be like you can’t do anything about it. And I’m 23 years old, I don’t really know what I’m doing or what I’m talking about, but I do know that going forward in the future, anytime there’s an instance like this, you just have to start and you just have to find the people who care about it in the way that you do because then something is going to happen. And if it works, it works. And if it doesn’t work, then you can maybe maneuver from there and figure out how. I’m a huge proponent of that. If you can find that right message, it’s amazing what I’ve learned in terms of the types of people that will come and help you if they resonate with the message that you have.

Darin: But that humble nature, the humility of what you just said, the passion, the purpose dwarfs any need for skills because you’ll figure those out as you go, getting on the phone, connecting a couple of dots having volunteered, you just figure it out. It’s literally not rocket science but just going into it and doing it and solving this major, major problem. So let’s talk a little bit then on food waste. I think there was a stat at one point, we have literally enough food right now for 10 billion people on the planet. I’m a plant-based person, but I got to talk to this fish butchery who uses 99% of the fish and realize that all of our fish being caught, not to mention the horrible waste that’s going on in the fishing industry, that 50% of all fish are being discarded and not being used because everyone wants their sashimi the way I want it. So the food waste is a big problem. So around that, have you started to understand the discrepancy of all the wastes at least in LA and around the country? Talk to me about that and how you’re kind of maximizing the food waste problem?

Aidan: Food waste is the problem that we are just drilling into. 

Aidan: You have these two issues, food waste, and food insecurity. They can be linked. One can help the other but the fact is food insecurity has a million different reasons why it’s occurring. You can’t really look at it and laugh at its absurdity and the fact that it exists because it is extremely complex as to why people are not getting enough money to have enough food. Food waste, on the other hand, the more and more I’ve learned about how to talk to these farmers and been to these farms, the more it’s like you can’t even believe it’s real. You can just laugh at it in a terrible, terrible way because it’s just a product of this kind of visibility that we have into our food system. And the fact that I’m taking words out of one of our farmer’s partner [00:23:22] right now. But it’s a product of the fact that the American consumer really wants and needs a perfect-looking watermelon sitting right there on their shelf 12 months of the year. And that convenience is worth more than anything to us. And we reflect that through the purchasing decisions we make, which then climb up the ladder to the decisions the farmers have to make. So I’ll give an example. Two weeks ago, I went to a warehouse down in East Los Angeles. And this was about the length of a football field. It was about 100 yards by 50 yards wide, but stacked about 50 feet tall with crates that had heirloom tomatoes in it like this expensive nice produce, but they were all going to be thrown out because they were too red for the show. It was something like 200,000 pounds, that was just for that morning. Those are supposed to be cleared out by 10 AM for the next load to come in to get shipped off and thrown away. And that’s what we see, too read, too small. We all kind of have heard about this imperfect produce issue but it’s a variety of factors. It’s seasonal changes as the climate is becoming more and more unpredictable, the weather is too hot or too cold and you grow more or less than you need. And there’s always going to be overproduction at the farm level, which is what we’re focused on, 20 billion pounds a year of produce going to waste in the United States. There always is going to be overproduction just by nature of farmers having to grow more than they expect so they can always meet their quotas. The problem I’m seeing here, though, that we’re looking at is that that extra 5% or 10%, there’s no avenue for it right now from the farm level. There aren’t enough. We’re doing but we can’t handle all of it right now. We need a much more coordinated effort on trying to get that 20 billion pounds of food into the hands of people who need it because there are a lot of people who would really enjoy an heirloom tomato, a fresh watermelon.

Darin: It’s sad and laughable. The fact that we’ve– you know, I have this term fatal convenience. This is an absolute fatal convenience that we want it to look a certain way. And then we literally won’t accept it if it isn’t perfect. And then at the same time, we have all these people not getting food, and we’re just willing to throw it all the way and not allow those people to eat. I’ve picked from food that was being thrown away as well. And I’m literally going, w hat the hell is wrong with this? I’m eating it going, how are you throwing this beautiful, in your case, too red of an amazing heirloom tomato? How the hell can we be so insanely insane? They naturally have a buffer of overproduction, so that itself is going to solve the food insecurity thing. So the fact that we don’t have a system in place and a massive scale to provide for our own people, is again, what are we doing?

Aidan: And what kind of fits into the vision here is that there is the food banking system in the United States that does a whole lot for people. And many of these food banks will source wholesale from farms that are going to waste. They have been doing what we do for a couple of years now or maybe even a decade or more. Those are the first people we went and spoke to when we started this. We’re like, how do we do something that’s going to help you guys so that we’re not doing something just redundant and patting ourselves on the back and making mistakes that you guys made two decades ago? But what we’re focused on is like if we can get access to that much stuff, that much fresh produce, and we can provide that produce to the organizations that we really believe are doing the right thing with it. So rather than making people wait in a line to get a handout, they, for example, are providing meals with directions on how to use those heirloom tomatoes and that kale. Or they’re setting up farmer’s market type situations that are more humanizing for families to go and pick out what they like. That’s where I think Farmlink can have the biggest impact, not so much as this front-facing thing because at the end of the day, a bag of potatoes and broccoli is not going to save a person’s life or it’s not going to make a person or family feel good. We want to be the back end to provide tons and tons of this stuff to the right organizations who can turn that raw stuff into meals and culture-based meals and things that make you feel human and alive.

Darin: Right, not just this free stuff that they’re given. Now, what the hell do I do with it? But really, I like that approach. So let’s break that down. So food banks, what are they? What are they doing? What missing links are they providing? And then what are the other organizations that you’re utilizing?

Aidan: We’ll see a food bank is like a large institutional warehouse that, let’s say is in Houston. 

Aidan: And they are taking in tens of millions of pounds of food. They have a variety of partners, wholesale partners that they may be buying from, the food donations that they’re taking, let’s say from supermarket, this and that. They’re piling up a ton of food in their main warehouse. And then they have trucks that they distribute out to local food pantries, which are what you would go to if you needed to grab a bag of produce, whatever. You’re gonna go to a food pantry, and you’re gonna get what you need. That’s basically the system in place. And it works for getting food into people’s hands. You see food banks in major cities like Houston and Los Angeles and down in Arizona that are moving close to a billion pounds of food a year. That being said, where I think we can reimagine the system is the way in which it gets into people’s hands. There are organizations like Brighter Bites, for example, they have their warehouses, they have their food, and they have the same ability to distribute that into smaller communities. They’re giving you a pamphlet that is with a scannable barcode that tells you exactly how to use that food that maybe you’ve never gotten at the grocery store before. They’re giving you a contact, they’re giving you a way like a reason as to why this stuff is healthy, why this stuff is fresh. It’s just connecting it and making it more human. So basically, to sum that up, we have a food banking system that is pretty efficient at getting food into people’s hands and moving poundage. But what we’re really focused on as we scale it is like how do we make this more personal and more human?

Darin: In your ideal world then, what would be the best way of doing that? Would that literally be an organization and volunteers where then taking all of the food that you’re collecting and preparing meals and then those meals are being distributed or if money wasn’t an issue, if anything, what do you believe now having the experience, what do you believe is the most powerful way to get that to people and actually have them utilize it?

Aidan: Yeah, I pretty strongly believe in not reinventing the wheel, especially in this space given the fact that we’re all working towards the same mission. There is no need to try to do the same thing that other organization may be doing well already to try to do it instead of them. There’s absolutely no need. So our mindset really strongly is like, let’s find those ones that are really competent at let’s say, taking food in bulk and turning it into meals, or let’s say, taking the meals and getting them into people’s homes. And let’s partner with them and figure out what they need. And most of the time, what we found the value added is, is that they are not sourcing enough food and they also are having a difficult time getting it to them. So that’s where we sit is if this is the farm, and this is the person’s home, and a lot of the organizations are between here and here, we are filling that gap to just be like, you amazing person who have worked with no spotlights last 20 years to figure out the system how to get fresh meals into everybody’s home in Brooklyn, we’re going to take this load off of you, and we’re going to cover the cost and the convenience of getting all your food source to you. And that’s what we want to be. And we do that with our volunteers, but we’re really this like back end logistics network where we’re going to work with 100 farmers, we’re working to move a billion pounds of food, and we’re going to get it to the right avenues. Because at the end of the day, what does it billion pounds of food mean? What is 40,000 pounds of food? It’s about what you do with it and how people access it.

Darin: And so today, some of those numbers are something like 40 million pounds you’ve moved so far.

Aidan: Yeah, we’re about a year in and we’ve moved 40 million pounds of food.

Darin: In a year. Dude, come on. Everyone, that’s freaking amazing.

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Darin: Food is our health. And unfortunately, food scarcity, which is also right in the middle of cities, scarcity because there are no grocery stores, and I’ve talked in length with Dan Buettner, the Blue Zones and try to help with that and other people into realizing that man, some of these scenarios and cities are just so poorly created that it keeps people away from healthy food, whether that was planned, or whether that was just the result of poor planning. The result is people are not getting fresh food into their mouths and therefore, further and deeper down the rabbit hole of disease and poor health. The health of this whole thing is of massive importance and especially now because we know that the majority of the people even suffering from COVID are obese. There’s disease and all of that stuff. So talk about that health side of things.

Aidan: Yeah, that is such a central part to it.

Aidan: On one end, people in the United States are not getting enough food but a huge role of what we’re doing is about the fact that people in the United States are not getting the right food. And that is because it’s expensive, it’s hard to access at your local supermarket. Or if you have it, do, you don’t know what to do with it, and it’s not as quick and easy as some of the more processed options. And that’s why we’ve never moved anything processed and we never will. We only work with produce. We have done dairy and eggs, and then some garnishes and things like that but 99% of it is just fresh, healthy vegetables and fruits so that we know when we’re getting it to people, they can get it to their kids so that their kids have what they need to go to school and be alert during the day. And it’s something a little bit more than like a bag of Doritos to power them throughout the day.

Darin: Some of these kids these days don’t even really know what fresh food is anymore. They’re not even supposed to.

Aidan: There was a really good– it was also a New York Times article, but it was a photojournalism piece of what we’re talking about looks like. And it just documented families all throughout the Midwest and South and the East Coast who depended on food banks and depended on the charitable food system and depended on food stamps. It’s basically like, you’re seeing kids who just had eight-hour school days on Zoom are eating like a bag of Doritos and a cookie, or at best, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and like chocolate pretzels because that’s just what was available, and not a lot of it either. So just this sort of empty calories that the research backs up of how many negative effects that has on you over the years, in terms of your mental development, in terms of your emotional stability, and your physical development of course.

Darin: We’re starting to see those numbers of heart disease in 10-year-olds. It’s just astronomically incredible and it’s silent. It’s invisible. We don’t see it. And so we keep these kids and then I got other kids, the problem is that we’re creating these habits that is going to be so damaging and so difficult for them to break later. And so it’s flippant conversations like that these just kids, they’re fine. It’s a horrible excuse. So I love the fact that you’re getting fresh food to people. So let’s just take it to scenario, how can people access food banks? Can anyone go up there? Do they have to have a special status, income status? How does that work if let’s say all of a sudden I lose my check, I lose my job, I literally have no idea, my family is there, how do I get access to this food?

Aidan: It varies from institution to institution, but the simple answer is the best thing for you to do if you are someone who needs assistance, food assistance is find your local food pantry, and work with that community center there because they’re going to be the ones who are going to give you the right answers and the right guidance to see how you get what you get. And sometimes it does require paperwork and signing up for it. But most of the time, you’re talking with people who are volunteering their time because they care about the situation and they care about the community and they want to help you. So that is the best thing to do is to go look up your local food pantry and try to get a face to face interview with someone who works there. More times than not, you’re gonna be able to walk in maybe same day and get a bag of what you need. But if not, at the very least, you’re going to get a resource who’s going to point you in the right direction.

Darin: And so there are so many tentacles of this thing that is just so impressive and so necessary. And one thing that people don’t realize with the food waste, and that’s the environmental impact. So the third-largest contributor of greenhouse gases in our environment is literally rotting food waste. And people just don’t realize the fact that if we care about our environment, we would literally be solving this for this alone. It’s like any one of these pillars that we’ve talked about, that is worth its weight in gold. Every one of them from the environment to the health to food insecurity to all of these things, but now this greenhouse gas, you’re literally creating a scenario where we’re gobbling up the waste that’s contributing to the environment. So what are your thoughts on that? And what are some of your numbers that you’ve also now contributed to?

Aidan: Well, I didn’t know this. I didn’t know the role that foodways played in emissions and climate change. In fact, I didn’t even know it until about six months into working on Farmlink. Did I connect with the fact of– every time we reroute a truck of potatoes going to the landfill, we’re saving x1000 pounds of methane and carbon dioxide from going into the atmosphere. Once you realize that, it became a core focus of ours because all of us, I speak for everybody who works on Farmlink, and then so many people who don’t and so many people who aren’t really aware or care so much about food waste but do care about the environment, that is the common link here. Something we were talking about earlier in this conversation was this idea of gigantic issues, and not knowing where to start, and that being an overwhelming feeling, that’s the issue of climate change at hand right now is that there are 50 million factors to it. The vast majority of people do not want to see it occur, do not like what’s happening and how it’s getting worse. And they definitely don’t like their feeling of impotence against it, but they don’t know where to start. Giving their dollar to this organization or recycling their bottles a bit more during the week just doesn’t quite feel like they’re having an impact. So that’s what I really like about zeroing in here is that food waste plays a huge, huge role in degradation of the climate. And we can actually fix that. And if we do, we’re making an impact on about 25% of emissions from the United States. So we’ve removed 40 million pounds of carbon dioxide, and methane from the atmosphere by saving them from going to landfills, that’s been our impact.

Darin: That’s amazing. It’s like compounding interest. You’ve set yourself on this, you start with one farmer, one truck, one place to distribute it, and then it just keeps going and going. That one truck is a thousand pounds of CO2 that’s not being emitted, and it’s hundreds of people now have food and it just keeps going and going and going. And that’s how these things have to be solved. I also like the idea of– some people can’t get their head around climate, period. But I look at this stuff as it’s common sense to get food that you have to people that don’t. And in that process, you’re not wasting food that’s destroying the environment. All of it is common sense, but we just need to put time and energy and create this new system. And that’s what I really love about what you’re doing. I know because from Season 1 of Down To Earth, I probably had thousands and thousands of people from 12 to 30 who all were saying, I want to help, I want to contribute to something, I’m inspired, I wasn’t even thinking about some of this stuff, and this fits right into that category. This is how people can help and they can donate, they can go to their cities, their regions, their states. And they can probably help mobilize more and more outputs and inputs and support from you. And I really want to know this, what are the different ways people can help you and contribute to you?

Aidan: This is what you can do. We take everybody and anybody who wants to help, whether you have an hour a week or you want to contact farms or you have 40 hours a week where you want to lead a team of people. Or you have no time but you have $10 which is gonna move 200 pounds of produce to people who need it. All of those opportunities, view our website, farmlinkproject.org, get involved. 

Aidan: We have things called Power Hours where you come and you basically join a group of people for an hour, group of our team members in calling our partner farms seeing if they have any surplus that we can move. We have a Farmlink fellowship that’s going on right now for people who actually want to join the team, in which case I would say reach out to me personally, aidan.reilly@farmlinkproject.org. And then you don’t have time to give, but if you have a dollar or if you have $10, we stretch that 100%. One hundred percent of individual donations goes towards moving food. It always has and it always will. If you give your dollar, none of it is gonna go to overhead or salary or anything like that. It’s gonna be used to pay truckers and to get food to food banks.

Darin: Amazing, dude. You’re gonna have a hard time stopping me from not helping you guys.

Aidan: Come on to our Power Hour. The Power Hour is what we call the hour-long, you basically get on and you try your hand at calling farmers, and they feed you what we’re doing all year. Hey, I’m working on behalf of Farmlink, do you have any surplus produce? Oh, you do? What do you need for us to get it from you?

Darin: I’d love to do that. Plus I’m stoked to gearing $100 gives a thousand pounds of food.

Aidan: So you can put it simply, every dollar is 20 pounds of food. Those are the margins we’re working out with the farms. As we’ve worked, we found more and more farms not just throwing out food but having to pay to throw out their food. They’re having to pay regulations, pay workers to break it down, which means that we’re finding partner farms who are just happily going to give us that food, huge amounts on a weekly donation basis. Which means we’re looking at $1 to 20 pounds of food. If you give 10 bucks right now, we’re gonna use that to get 200 pounds of food to people in Louisiana who need it.

Darin: Amazing. Well, I’m gonna challenge everyone who’s listening to this right now. Everyone who tunes into this podcast, donate something. As a rubber-meets-the-road person, I’m donating a thousand bucks because I want 20,000 pounds to go to people and their mouths because I’m so stoked about this. So as soon as I get off the air, I’m putting a thousand bucks in and I challenge all of you, a dollar, 10, 100, 1,000. Come on, let’s do this. Let’s get people food and let’s stop wasting food that’s ripping apart our ozone layer. It’s ridiculous. It doesn’t make sense. And Farmlink has created an amazing solution here in the United States. Dude, I’m stoked that you’ve done it because I was wanting to like someone’s gotta do this and I was starting to chop it a bit. So I’m really excited that you have done a lot of the heavy lifting and now I can just kind of surf a little bit. Cool, man. Well, where can people find you? Let’s just give all the links again.

Aidan: So farmlinkproject.org is our website. And basically, all of our handles on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, whatever is farmlinkproject, one word.

Darin: Aidan, you’re a superhero. I appreciate all of the people that work for you, work with you, all the farmers, all of the volunteers. I applaud all of you. And let’s get healthy food to as many people as possible.

Aidan: Thank you, Darin.

Darin: Thanks, brother.

Darin: What a fantastic episode. So tell me, what is one thing you got out of today’s conversation? If this episode struck a chord with you and you want to dive a little deeper into my other conversations with incredible guests, you can head over to my website, darinolien.com for more episodes and in-depth articles. Keep diving my friends. Keep diving.

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