At Mayfield, we have a long history of philanthropy, supporting community organizations around three pillars – education, hunger, and DEI. As the Thanksgiving season approaches, we are taking a moment to reflect on the many blessings we have received throughout the year. But we’re also mindful of the challenges that many families face, particularly during the holidays. That’s why we’re proud to announce our partnership with Farmlink, a non-profit organization dedicated to fighting for a world where everyone has access to the food they need.
Earlier this month, the Farmlink and Mayfield teams came together for a special community event in celebration of the inaugural Farmlink FIELD Fellows program, a program we support, which is similar to the 25+ year Mayfield Fellows program at Stanford University. This is an 8-month, action-driven pipeline that educates, immerses, and enables changemakers to create an impact across different segments of the food system. Farmlink is catalyzing the next generation of ambitious students to create sustainable solutions within the food space and enact innovative change.
If we take a look at their beginnings, Farmlink was a response to COVID. Because the commercial food industry shut down, there was a massive amount of food waste piling up on farms. And yet, simultaneously, food banks were facing the longest lines they had ever seen.
Their first haul was 2000 lbs of onions from farmer Shay Myers. But today, they’re up to 300 truckloads of apples – hundreds of millions of lbs – in the largest food recovery effort of all time.
Consumer demand variability and canceled commercial contracts mean that again and again there are moments where this kind of wide-scale effort is needed in order to prevent substantial food waste and subsequent environmental damage (methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is a byproduct of food breakdown in landfills).
Furthermore, having been established by such a young and vibrant community of student entrepreneurs, the program is both innovative and dynamic. Every year in the US, 30%-40% of food (over 100 billion lbs.) is wasted, while 37 million Americans lack access to safe and sufficient food, and around the world over 828 million people are food insecure. It’s our goal as a venture fund to not just help finance the changemakers of tomorrow for profit, but to additionally enable those who will go on to solve complex and challenging dilemmas in hunger, education and DEI. If a single student’s idea can escalate and lead to the rescue of more than 150M lbs of food on an annual basis, then supporting dozens more can only lead to similar such impacts. Here is what our students worked on:
Food Bank Innovation
Margot Kirby / University District Food Bank
The Problem: Food bank donations are down. Individuals have less food to spare, and grocery stores have depleted stock due to lower consumer demand. However, more are going hungry than ever before, government food assistance has been significantly reduced since the pandemic, and food prices are higher than ever. So the need for non-profit food services is through the roof. The ratio of donated to purchased food at local non-profits must be restored in order to help vulnerable communities.
The Solution: Approaching grocery stores, local businesses and community groups to ask them:
- Do you typically have surplus food that you end up having to discard?
- Do you already work with a food bank to deal with these items?
Grocery stores typically already have a partner, but businesses are much less likely to already have a system in place and will often participate in charitable food drives. Furthermore, increasing community engagement can also spur donations from individuals. To get involved yourself: donate, volunteer, host a food drive, or ask your local businesses what they do with their day-olds.
Food Allergies Among Food Bank Recipients
Kennedy Wilcox / Brazos Valley Food Bank
The Problem: Many food banks don’t have programs in place to offer those with food allergies safe food to eat. In many cases, one jar of peanut butter can contaminate an entire box of donated food. Over 30M people a year (in the U.S.) have food allergies today, and that number is only increasing. Furthermore, food allergies are the most prevalent in vulnerable, minority populations.
The Solution: Implementing allergen-free food boxes at food banks. This will provide individuals with allergies access to safe food, while respecting diversity and responding to evolving needs.
Solving Food Insecurity
Ariel Cook / Harvest Against Hunger & West Seattle Food Bank
The Problem: Food insecurity is rapidly increasing across all communities. In Seattle, 10% of residents are food insecure today.
The Solution: Community engagement is always the best way to battle food insecurity. Monetary donations are not enough, you need strong local relationships to build strong local economies. Farms, food banks, and local businesses must work together to be part of the solution.
In 2020 the West Seattle Food Bank had 60% donated food and 40% purchased, today it’s 10% and 90% respectively. In order to correct these numbers, individually managed food drives and online fundraisers can help bring those numbers back to pre-COVID levels of donation.
Food Sovereignty and Community Empowerment
Alysia Jimenez / Farm to Pantry and San Diego Food Bank
The Problem: Hyper-localized solutions are important in order for communities to gain sovereignty over their own food supply.
The Solution: A local policy guide can be built to help non-profits and other partners through strategic community communication and the creation of functional directives for local partners.
Just Food and Actionable Food Resilience
Conor Flynn / Mid-Ohio Food Collective
The Problem: We need to adjust our practices as a society to meet basic human and community needs on account of structural issues with conventional food systems in the United States. There are issues with resiliency too – the way we handle food today will make it harder to manage in the future.
The Solution: There are three key principles for greater food equity:
- Locality – Prioritizing hyper-local and hyper-regional food production and distribution
- Seeking Synergies – Looking for and creating synergies between civic participation, circular resource practices, and meeting marginalized needs
- Proactive Protection – Proactively protecting our progress, and ensuring its future resiliency
Building a Food Council
Aditi Kulkarni / Produce Packaging
The Problem: Ending food insecurity is a huge challenge, even on college campuses
The Solution: Bringing the campus food council model to schools across the country, by creating a kit that can be accessed by any student, professor, or resource center. It’s a step by step reference guide for others to help institute their own food councils, and can be used as part of broader teaching curriculums. The goal is to encourage students to implement their own campus food councils at their universities and empower students to become leaders in their communities.
Community-Driven Waste Solutions
Anna Bowden / Produce Good
The Problem: What if farmers markets didn’t just deliver fresh produce to communities, but also combatted food waste and hunger? Farmers markets are great hubs, but because of seasonal fluctuations and variable consumer demand, there’s a lot of food waste at these markets.
The Solution: Farmers market recoveries across local communities. Volunteers hand out bins to vendors that are collected and weighed, so that those donations can be recorded and therefore tax-deductible, benefitting local farmers. The produce will then be brought to food banks and other partners, feeding the community throughout the week.
Owen Clark / Farm to Pantry
The Problem: Communities of low socioeconomics are disproportionately affected by pollution and food insecurity. When people are unable to access traditional pathways to food, they also often don’t have clean soil or land to grow their own food. Hazardous waste is most likely present in poorer areas
The Solution: Myco-remediation. Mushrooms are very efficient at reversing environmental damage. This is a natural and environmentally-friendly technique that employs certain species of fungi, like oyster mushrooms, to clean up contaminated environments. They have the ability to break down and absorb a wide variety of pollutants including heavy metals and petrochemicals from soil and water. They break these long-chained toxins into simple, less toxic forms. The goal is to make growing these mushrooms replicable at scale, by hosting workshops on how to perform myco-remediation in communities nationwide.
Sustainable Waste Management
Gillian Feinglass / Earth Matter
The Problem: Most waste today goes straight to the landfill, squandering precious resources and creating environmental harm. And while individuals create a wide variety of different kinds of waste, restaurants create mostly food waste.
New York City has created programs for individuals to try and divert their food waste, but there’s a glaring absence of similar programs at scale (restaurants, etc.). Food waste consumes 38% of the U.S. food supply today, the water usage of 50M American homes, and the energy of 83M passenger vehicles a year, at an economic cost of $408B ($112B from restaurants alone). This is an economic and ecological disaster, where restaurant food waste is a big piece of the puzzle.
Today, restaurants dispose of 85% of surplus food in landfills or incinerators, and razor-thin profit margins mean that wasted food is meaningful
The Solution: The average American hates interacting with garbage. It’s gross, smelly, and a nuisance, but it can become a valuable resource when sorted, treated and utilized. Anaerobic digestion turns food waste into nutrient-rich soil and renewable energy sources. A simple plan needs to be established for restaurants to take action:
- Establish a three bin system in restaurants – Recycling, compost, and landfill
- Educate restaurants on how to effectively compost
- Designate a local organization to schedule pickups of compost bins
- Establish infrastructure to connect them with the restaurants
- Encourage restaurant participation with tax benefits
Waste diversion isn’t just good for the planet, it’s smart for businesses. $1 invested can save $7 over three years. Restaurants are incentivized to participate via education, a streamlined program, and tax incentives.