If you could bottle the sun and take it as a daily supplement, you might just harness some of the radiance that Lindsey Loberg, Program Director of Boulder Food Rescue, exudes to everyone she meets. I meet Loberg early Thursday morning on one of her shifts, which are designated pickup times performed by volunteers to collect donated food from local grocers. Today’s pickup included about 4 boxes of vegetables (including corn, kale and broccoli) and in total weighed about 130 pounds, “This is pretty typical for a smaller store. Larger stores may donate as much as 400-600 pounds,” Loberg says.
Before loading these boxes into her trailer, Loberg quickly assesses the produce and sets a couple of items aside. “It’s a respect issue,” Loberg tells me, “There can be a stigma associated with donated food, and we don’t want to perpetuate that, which is why we maintain high quality standards.”
Once inspected for quality, Loberg loads the 130 pounds of produce into the back trailer of her bicycle. The thought of hauling this weight daily makes me imagine that Loberg must harbor impressive leg muscles to make even an ironman athlete jealous. And despite the arduous task of collecting and delivering food by bicycle, I witness her repeatedly flash a bright smile to everyone who crosses our path, greeting strangers and friends alike with a warm hello that gives you the warm fuzzies and reminds you why you moved to a city like Boulder in the first place.
“And all pickups are done by bike?” I confirm.
“Nearly—about 85% of pickups are done by bike, even in the winter. Bikes are financially and environmentally sustainable.” In fact, Loberg tells me she has snowshoed this very shift during one of Boulder’s heavier snows. I don’t care who you are—snowshoeing even 80 pounds in the winter is pure dedication. After making a second stop at a community garden to pick up produce left behind by individual member gardens, we take off to a low-income housing area just about a mile north from the start of our journey. Here we pull up to a picnic table in the center of the community and Loberg unloads.
And just like that, food that was intended for compost just 1 hour earlier will be someone’s dinner tonight.
Food Redistribution As a Diversified Industry
What’s next for food redistribution? More vertical channels, with some groups specializing in produce, frozen goods or leftover prepared foods says Loberg. Boulder Food Rescue is one of the many local food distribution groups in the area. “Food redistribution is becoming more niche,” Loberg tells me, “The goal is to work together to get food out of our landfill.” Some groups specialize in fast casual food destined for the trash (say a slice of pizza that didn’t happen to sell that afternoon), other groups collect non-perishable items to create large stores of food that may be distributed over time. For Boulder Food Rescue, they aim to tackle food waste one piece of fresh produce at a time.
Food waste is a serious issue, making up the largest material (at 21%) in the landfill. In fact, 40% of all food produced in the U.S. is thrown away. Tackling a large, national issue like food waste could be daunting, which is why organizations like Boulder Food Rescue are focusing on one component of food waste. “Fresh produce is often what we hear most from families in need,” Loberg says. Problem is, the lengthy process of many traditional food distribution organizations means that some of the fresh produce will go bad before it ever makes its way into the hands of needy individuals. Boulder Food Rescue sources produce from local supermarkets, community gardens, and in the summer, the Farmers Market, and partners with community leaders in low income senior housing sites, family housing sites, after-school and pre-school programs, and more in the area to get the food straight into the hands of people who need it most.
“Our goal is to break down barriers. The food goes directly to the people,” Loberg says.
Progress Through Education
Part of Boulder Food Rescue’s mission is education. In April 2016, Boulder Food Rescue published its first ever City of Boulder: Food Waste Audit to identify key factors that contribute to the current state of food waste in the City of Boulder. The audit surfaced perceptions of food waste and highlighted the need for more all-around training. Take for example, the popular misconception concerning the “hungry person” is misleading. As Boulder Food Rescue grew, its founders quickly discovered food insecurity in hidden cracks of marginalized communities, which is why the organization partners with elderly homes, preschools daycares and low-income housing sites.
Another misconception about food donation concerns liability issues. In a country where lawsuits are a dime a dozen, companies and individuals alike are rightfully concerned. Luckily, a federal law exists which protects food donors from liability: the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996. Key points of this law include:
- Protection from liability when food is donated to a non-profit organization
- Protection from civil and criminal liability when food is donated in good faith but may later cause harm to the recipient
- Standardizes donor liability exposure in 50 states
Spreading knowledge is key to progress, which is why Boulder Food Rescue is in the process of creating a new curriculum with educational materials focused on food waste in hopes to divert much of this (still good) material out of our landfills. By working with community leaders, Boulder Food Rescue helps to run what they call “Grocery Programs,” which is a food-pantry style setup within that local community; the organization encourages these leaders to determine how, when and where to distribute the food.
For people like Loberg, food waste was an issue she first encountered when teaching at a school in Milwaukee, WI. When moving to Boulder became an actuality, Loberg joined Boulder Food Rescue in the Fall of 2014. What started as an interesting volunteer opportunity to bike food around Boulder quickly grew into a passion for helping our local community. Boulder Food Rescue now has a network of more than 100 volunteers, who continue to pick up and deliver food by bicycle each day, rain or snow. Loberg tells me that the weather would have to be really, really, really bad for her to consider an alternate form of transportation for food pickups.
“I’ve always loved bicycles.”
For more information on Boulder Food Rescue, and how to get involved, visit BoulderFoodRescue.org.