Stopping Food Waste During COVID-19, One Grant At a Time

Danielle Nierenberg
When the COVID-19 pandemic caused restaurants and creameries to shut down, goat farmers Blake and Andrew Place found themselves dumping 95 percent of their daily milk production because they couldn’t sell it. But with a grant from the ReFED COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund, an organization called FarmLink was able to connect the Places’ goat farm with community nonprofits in need, saving hundreds of quarts from being wasted. To help prevent more pandemic-related food waste, the COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund has awarded US$3 million since the beginning of May and aims to reach US$10 million in grants during the next few months. These grants support organizations around the country in recovering 50 million pounds of food that would have otherwise been wasted—enough for 41.5 million meals.
“This year, I think it’s pretty clear there’s going to be extra food going to waste. In that sense, [COVID-19] sets us back, because you can’t plan for shutting down half the food system,” ReFED Executive Director Dana Gunders told me on Food Talk Live.

Photo of Food Rescue US volunteers in Detroit courtesy ReFED

“But in the long term, does it build more awareness?” she asked. “Do we actually find some opening for solutions that are created at this moment to last longer-term? Do we build habits that lead to lasting results? I think that’s where the opportunity lies. I’m optimistic that it’ll tip in the right direction.”
When the COVID-19 pandemic began, farmer Blake Place and her husband, Andrew, faced a problem: the goats on their upstate New York farm were still producing 100 gallons of milk a day, but the restaurants and creameries they sold to had shut down. With the markets for their goat cheese and goat milk gelato gone, the Places felt they had no choice but to dump 95 percent of the milk they produced each day.
But recently, the firm FarmLink connected them with several organizations that could use their milk: the North Country Prenatal Perinatal Council, which was in need of safe baby formula replacements, and Mercy Church, which will offer it at their soup kitchens. This way, they were able to avoid wasting hundreds of quarts of bottled goat milk.
“I’m just so happy that we worked out a way to get this milk back to the people instead of dumping it,” Blake Place said.
FarmLink is one of a growing number of organizations that has expanded their efforts during the pandemic thanks to grants from the ReFED COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund. ReFED, an organization that analyzes solutions to food waste, has awarded US$3 million through the fund since the beginning of May.
ReFED estimates that the fund will enable the recovery of 50 million pounds of food over the next 90 days—enough for 41.5 million meals. Food Tank is a media partner for the campaign.
Grantees represent efforts to reduce food loss and support recovery across the country, including in the Northeast and the Navajo Nation, which have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19 while receiving lower funding from U.S. Department of Agriculture relief programs. ReFED has awarded grants to 412 Food Rescue, Aloha Harvest, Boston Area Gleaners, Food Rescue Alliance, Second Harvest Heartland, White Pony Express, and more than two dozen more organizations.
Based in Portland, Maine, a technology platform called Forager is working to connect farms, donation partners, and wholesale buyers with gleaners, who volunteer to harvest extra crops but can earn money from surplus sales. This both prevents on-farm food loss and facilitates grocery stores and restaurants buying locally grown produce. The gleaner program was scaled up with a grant from the COVID-19 Food Waste Solutions Fund, and Forager estimates that 5 million pounds of recovered crops in 10 states will be sold on their platform this season.
Even before the pandemic, Indigenous communities faced significant health disparities, and COVID-19 has only worsened food insecurity and hunger in many tribal nations. FarmLink, the organization that helped the Places’ goat farm, also was able to use ReFED grant funds to support the Navajo Nation. They organized the delivery of more than 40,000 pounds of potatoes, which would otherwise have been wasted, directly from Desert Ridge Farm, in Moses Lake, Washington, to Native groups in New Mexico and Arizona.
“We don’t usually have [potatoes] in that bulk, and…the produce is usually the first thing to go,” said Christian Vazquez of Strengthening Nations, a domestic violence resource organization in New Mexico. “It’s really fulfilling getting things to people who really need them.”
(Danielle Nierenberg is President Food Tank. She can be reached at