Over the past decade, a network of food recovery entrepreneurs has emerged alongside the established food supply industry, bringing safe and wholesome food to hungry people that would otherwise go to waste. On June 27, researchers at Harvard’s Food Law and Policy Clinic (FLPC) and Harvard Business School teamed up to bolster that network. The Food Recovery Entrepreneurs Workshop brought together more than 60 organizations from across the U.S. and Canada that are addressing a broad range of food recovery issues. The workshop served as a forum for these organizations to share perspectives and identify opportunities for collaboration that might lead to best practices, joint funding, efficiencies of scale, and greater community awareness.
Participants discussed the importance of developing a national network that could work with lawmakers, retailers, federal agencies, and the public to raise awareness about the social and economic costs of wasted food and the benefits of recovery. Workshop participants also discussed the need to better understand the customers they serve. Doug Rauch is the founder of the Daily Table, which he calls a “hunger-relief, healthcare agency masked as a grocery store.” Daily Table collects food that would normally be wasted and, through the artistry of its executive chef, Ismail Samad, creates healthy and affordable meals for residents that live near his store.
Rauch stressed that many people bristle at the idea of receiving food for free. “At the Daily Table, we have to remember that our work is about empowering customers to make the choice for nutritious food — with dignity,” he said. “Through our engagement with community centers, our customers, and local leaders, we recognized that our main competitors were the fast food restaurants on every street corner offering cheap, ready-made meals for customers to bring home and serve to their family and serve right away. We learned right away if we couldn’t compete with that, we were not going to succeed.” Daily Table provides nutritious prepared meals for community residents, priced to be competitive with fast-food chains.
Other workshop participants addressed the challenges of communicating at a national level about existing legislation that enables food recovery. Many participants noted continued confusion around legislation protecting food donors and food rescuers. Known as the “Good Samaritan” Act, the Bill Emerson Food Donation Act provides a baseline of protection for food donors. Yet, as more organizations enter into the food rescue and donation space, whether they are farmers, gleaners, or recipients, many are unaware of the legal protections and tax incentives afforded to those donating food.
Image courtesy of 2016 Food Recovery Entrepreneurs Workshop at Harvard Law School
Many of the organizations at the workshop operate the only food recovery organization in their communities and recognized the benefits of leveraging best practices from other organizations. During a panel discussion with philanthropic partners funding food waste and recovery projects across America, panelists from the Rockefeller Foundation, Claneil Foundation, and Fink Family Foundation noted a building momentum within a movement that, after years of grassroots efforts, is beginning to evolve into a national phenomenon that can reap health, environmental, and economic benefits for the entire country. “There are certainly untapped opportunities that will come with continued collaboration among industry players,” Monica Munn of the Rockefeller Foundation said. “I think for those organizations looking to advance, an important element is to identify opportunities for collaboration with funders that go beyond money. Funders are resources for advice and building industry connections as well.”
Rauch also emphasized the importance of collaboration among local community players. “We must make sure as an organization we are mission clear and that we stay true to that mission,” he said. “This builds trust within the community and among our funders and partners. It’s also important to know who your community partners are including healthcare centers, community groups, and community leaders. Find ways to partner with them to create the best fit for your enterprise.”
Despite the many challenges addressed at the workshop, there was a hum of optimism and excitement for further collaboration within the emerging national network. Jose Alvarez, a faculty member at Harvard Business School and affiliate of the HBS Business and Environment Initiative, helped lead the workshop. He closed the day with an invitation for participants to continue discussions to scale the food waste and recovery network. “Whether you have a few people in your network, or thousands, you have a significant role in sharing the messages of this work in supporting our environment, our food system, and empowering social justice. We hope this workshop builds new partnerships for future development.”