Eagle River Valley Food Bank Takes on Community Food Insecurity, and Food Waste
Food waste is one of the biggest problems plaguing our developed world. In fact, if the food waste in the US was its own country it would be the third largest country in the world in terms of emissions. All the emissions from our landfill come from food waste and other organic material that ends up in the landfill, meaning our primary means of addressing landfill emissions locally, is through diverting food waste! The Eagle River Valley Food Bank is leading the charge in reducing food waste in our community and while also supporting equity, sustainability, and healthy communities. The goal of the Eagle River Valley Food Bank is “Healthy People, Strong Communities, Environmental Sustainability” and everything they do falls around these three concepts. I sat down with Brian and Rita to learn more about what the Food Bank is doing for our community!
It all starts with Food Rescue, can you tell me about the food rescue you guys do in Eagle County?
We rescue food waste from local grocery stores and other food service locations all over Eagle County. We have picked up 72,000 lbs of grocery rescue since May! All of this food would have gone into the landfill or in some cases would have been composted. Kroger is the one organization we work with that has a commitment to composting, however we don’t know how much they actually compost. The food we rescue is being delivered to families with food insecurity around the valley rather than going straight into our waste streams. We do regular food pickups from the following locations: Starbucks in Edwards, Walmart, Costco, Village Market, City Markets in Vail, Avon, and Eagle, and Ridleys Market.
Our biggest opportunity for expansion is around schools or other grocers where food waste is consistent. We’ve also been investigating prepared food rescue, but that comes with a host of challenges, so we’re still looking into what this could look like. Our staff is participating in a ServSafe Training next week with the CSU Extension Program to earn a certification for the safe handling of food.
How have the Community Markets been going so far in 2019?
The markets have been a continued success throughout the year. After the summer season ended we moved our markets indoors and this sparked an interesting change at our Eagle River Village market. The managers of the Village decided to take over the operation of the market so they could host it during hours when it is easier for residents to get there. They’ve committed to providing staff, tables, fridge space, and have created a system that saves the Food Bank a lot of time in labor. Not only does it save time, but the Food Bank is excited about this program because it allows the community to be more meaningfully involved! The community has taken ownership of the program and is excited to engage their residents even further through the markets. Now the Food Bank simply coordinates food drop-offs and assists with the markets when needed. The Food Bank also could not work nights, so with this new system, Eagle River Village can host markets at night and can host more than one market a week! Eagle River Village has set up a permanent “mini-market” throughout the week where residents can drop by and pick up and of the food in the fridge or pantry. We are hoping other communities follow this model in 2019. By doing so, they would free up time for the Food Bank allowing us to increase our programs and reach in the community!
Another interesting thing that has come from our markets is that the MIRA (Mobile Intercultural Resource Alliance) Bus now comes to communities when the markets are happening because they know they will be able to reach a greater number of community residents.
What new program has the food bank been working on this year?
Food Bags for Vail Resort Employees
Last year was a bad season, as we know, and many Vail Resort employees were out of a job for the first part of the season. We partnered together with Vail Resorts to give out food bags to employees.
This year Vail Resorts wanted to do it again, but made it a welcome bag, since we’ve had a normal snow winter. So far we’ve sent out 700 food bags, and are planning two more rounds of giving out bags to employees. The bags have a variety of food in them for example, boxed and microwaveable meals, cereal, sunscreen, granola bars, etc. There are about 12 lbs of food in each bag!
Vail Pastor Network
Kids who get food at school may not get food at home, so the goal of this program is to provide kids with food to eat over the weekend. The bags include breakfast, lunch, snacks, oatmeal, cereal, carrots, juice milk, etc. We put these bags together for both Thanksgiving and Christmas. We order all the food (if we need anything in addition to the food at the food bank) and put the food into bags. Then the Vail Pastor Network distributes the bags to the children.
Local Sourcing Program
We have been trying our best to create food networks so the Food Bank has locally grown produce. Currently, we have 800 pounds of apples that came from farm in Olathe, a pallet of local onions, and some local carrots. We work with Uproot Colorado, a Gleaning organization in Pitkin County to help us identify other local food suppliers we can work with. We are also working closely with New Roots, a local organization, working to identify farmers in Eagle County who could contribute to our local food program.
We are constantly looking for further waste diversion opportunities, for the food we receive that we can’t pass out in time. We compost and recycle all waste that can be included in those waste streams, however we think these should be kept as a last resort. We recently found and partnered with a guy who owns chickens and we can divert our food waste to chickens rather than sending them to compost. We’re looking to expand our waste diversion options, so stay tuned for more!
Regular Market at Food Bank
Finally, we’ve started a storefront at the food bank that is open during business hours where anyone can come in and shop for free. This has been super successful so far, and people coming in to shop at the storefront often end up volunteering for us! It’s a win-win for us and for the residents.
You all are doing amazing things at the Food Bank! If someone wanted to get involved through volunteering, how would they learn about volunteer opportunities with the Eagle River Valley Food Bank?
Anyone can visit Our Community Foundation’s website and navigate to the get involved page. All of our volunteer opportunities are broken up by shifts and job types on that webpage!
We have had a lot of volunteer support! Regardless of age folks will come to volunteer. One cool trend we’ve noticed is, once someone’s volunteered once they come back time and again.