#CMConnected: Alumni help bring surplus crops to food banks

#CMConnected is a regular web series where we’ll catch up with students, faculty, staff, and alumni about how the CMC community is connecting in new ways during this period of physical distancing due to COVID-19.

When a small group of college students and recent graduates from across the country set out in April to restore a broken link in the food supply chain, they could hardly anticipate how fast their project would grow—or that it would catch the attention of media outlets like the New York Times, ABC News, Fox News, and Variety.

Four weeks later, one of FarmLink’s project leaders, Owen Dubeck ’19, said the mission is clear: “We’re trying to build this into a national movement where people can join us and bring food to the food banks in their own communities.”

At the heart of FarmLink stands a simple concept: Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which led to the closure of restaurants, school cafeterias, and hotel buffets across the country, farmers are unable to sell their crops. At the same time, food banks are turning away people because of supply shortages.

cmc-roomates

FarmLink connects desperate farmers with food banks, assists with price negotiations and the logistics of delivery, and helps raise funds to pay for the crop. In turn, farm workers and truck drivers receive wages, and families no longer go hungry. Last week alone, FarmLink moved 150,000 pounds of food.

Dubeck became part of the grassroots effort after discussing how to help during the pandemic with a friend he met while studying abroad, Stanford graduate James Kanoff. Together with his CMC friend and roommate, Alejandro Sandell ’19, Dubeck immediately joined “a movement of motivated and capable students.”

As two of the oldest project leaders, Dubeck and Sandell have brought invaluable professional experience to FarmLink. Dubeck works for a documentary film production company in Los Angeles, Optimist, that was founded and is run by two CMC alums, Chris Temple ’12 and Zach Ingrasci ‘12. He spearheads FarmLink’s media and marketing team.

“Everything at FarmLink has been a team effort,” he said. “But I’ve been able to bring in my skills with leading viral social good campaigns that get 20 million or 25 million views, and figuring out how that translates to donations and actually helping people.”

Sandell, who adds problem solving expertise and is an associate at EY-Parthenon in Los Angeles, helps FarmLink tackle scalability issues. “The challenge is to anticipate the number of deals and the volume of shipments that we might see in the future and to proactively adapt our current model to support that kind of volume,” he said.

CMC alum working in a delivery truck

About 50 young people, most of whom are still in college, serve as FarmLink’s core volunteer group, but hundreds more are involved. Dubeck and Sandell hope that the movement will grow even further. Ideally, anyone willing to participate should be able to reach out to a local food bank, assess their supply needs, and pass the information on to FarmLink. “Then we will organize a deal with farmers and a shipment,” Sandell said.

Looking ahead to potential post-pandemic efforts, they hope that FarmLink will continue to connect farmers with surplus crops to people living in food deserts. “Food insecurity and food waste is not a problem that's unique to this pandemic. It’s just exacerbated by it,” Dubeck said.

Sandell, an economics major, said that studying at CMC helped spark in him the desire to get involved with FarmLink. “CMC has prepared us to get involved with projects that have potential for some real impact,” he said.

Dubeck, also an economics major, said there is plenty of opportunity for CMC community members to get involved. “A lot of students don't have internships this summer,” he said. “Come join us! You can be part of a project where your effort will translate to 200,000 pounds of food tomorrow or next week. Everything's happening in real time.”

Have someone you’d like us to connect with for #CMConnected? Email suggestions to trozwadowski@cmc.edu.

—Christina Schweighofer

How to help

FarmLink doesn’t yet have 501(c)(3) status. A tax-exempt nonprofit organization, Food Finders, accepts donations for them. To contact FarmLink, email Owen Dubeck: owen@optimist.co.