Boulder Food Rescue: Moving Our Food System Forward One Bike Ride at a Time

Earlier this year we had the privilege of working with Hana Dansky, the founder and executive director of Boulder Food Rescue and Kyle Huelsman, a co-founder and executive director of the recently formed Food Rescue Alliance as they navigate fundraising, event planning and board development during a major restructuring of their organizations. Among the many pleasures of collaborating with Hana and Kyle two things struck me. One is how two very different people can partner so amicably to forward their mission. The other, how they shared an acute sense that their commitment to their grassroots values could be compromised at any turn as they grow. In my work with nonprofits I have interacted with many that I describe as “old guard” or transitioning (i.e. operating in a traditional manner but ready for disruption). These local food rescue organizations are anything but that: They are young in their short history, their leadership and their attitude. Most impressive of all, in spite of their carefully protected integrity, both Hana and Kyle are open to being challenged– which made them really fun to work with. I look forward to watching their organizations develop in concert and hope that hearing more about them piques your interest in their work too.

CC: Tell me about what motivated you to become an innovator in the food rescue movement, particularly combining bike transportation to move people and product.

Hana: I became passionate about the issue of food waste originally from an environmental perspective.  The amount of energy that gets put into our food being grown, picked, transported and stored is immense, nearly half of which ends up being wasted.  By rescuing this food we are not only reversing the energy consumption but no longer contributing to an unjust capitalist food system.  So the first step we took was finding out how the current food redistribution system works, recognizing the gaps and problems with that system, and then coming up with a solution to address those problems.

By using cars to transport the food we would be using extra energy in gas consumption that we don’t need to use.  Food gets thrown away literally blocks away from people who need it.  Calorie for calorie, one gallon of gas is the equivalent to about 200 pounds of apples.  Although ethical variables from both sides of this equation are left out (i.e. extra energy wasted and social injustices in the food system vs. a war on the middle east for oil) its an interesting way to look at food redistribution.  A simpler way to look at it is, if we can bike it, we should.

CC: In addition to the long list of donor grocery stores that you work with you build rich strategic collaborations with community partners such as Meals on 2 Wheels, CU, and Community Cycles. How do these relationships help you to better meet your mission?

Hana: Boulder Food Rescue is multi-variable in that we work on both environmental and social justice issues.  We focus on food waste, health equity, and bicycle transportation.  Because there are a diversity of issues that we address, we are able to reach out to many different organizations for support.  Instead of recreating the wheel, its easier to work with organizations who already have resources and knowledge to provide.  Collectively, we are able to do better work and make a larger impact in our community.

CC: You recently created the Food Rescue Alliance which you hope (in your words) will act as an “incubator” for BFR and other Colorado based food rescues. How is the process of restructuring your organization(s) going?

Hana: Food Rescue Alliance enables us to fulfill our dream of helping other cities start direct-to-shelter food rescues while at the same time maintaining operations and growing as an organization here in Boulder.  Yet, we are still in the beginning stages of setting up FRA and BFR still acts as a fiscal sponsor.  There are certainly challenges with the restructure of our organization such as donor sources, responsibilities and funding, but at the same time I know that FRA is a step in the right direction for addressing food security issues on a larger level.  

CC: BFR is staging the Forward Food Summit in April 2014. Tell me more about how you will use this platform to engage food justice and food security activists to more effectively transform our current food system.

Hana: The Forward Food Summit is a two-day conference hosted by Boulder Food Rescue in partnership with Impact Hub Boulder focused on raising awareness about food justice and security issues, by bringing together the general public and activists in these two fields to enhance their scope and abilities to do their work.  We will learn from experts in both food security and systemic issues and have real conversations about where the gaps in our current systems are.  We will not only explore the things that we are doing well, but also the things that we aren’t doing well, in hopes to both learn about current systems and be inspired to create action in our communities when we walk away.

The Forward Food Summit is just a month away! The event, held on April 5th & 6th, will feature a number of community-based workshops and panels as well as a special address from keynote speakerMajora Carter, the founder of Sustainable South Bronx. In line with Boulder Food Rescue’s commitment to accessibility, the registration fee for the 2-day summit is just $15.00 and, in Hana’s words, “No one will be turned away because of an inability to pay.” That Boulder Food Rescue legitimately wants to gather everyone around the table– particularly those most deeply impacted by food justice and security issues– embodies why I am so smitten with the organization.  Among the many highly impactful non-profit organizations located in Boulder County, Boulder Food Rescue is a new gem to discover. From my perspective, it is an honor to have them here launching their forward-thinking activism via BFR and the formation of the Food Rescue Alliance.