Category Archives: food

Waste reduction app diverts food from landfills

Flashfood app provides cheap food and keeps it out of landfills. Image: Flashfood

By Nina Felicidario

Despite setbacks from the pandemic, a food waste reduction company has diverted over 50 million pounds of food from landfills.

Flashfood is a mobile marketplace that connects surplus food in grocery stores with local shoppers to help sell food that will get disposed of in landfill if it isn’t sold within a day or two. Users open the app to order and buy groceries at a discounted rate then pick them up from participating stores.

The company that launched in Canada had successful rollouts this year in over a thousand stores. They are implemented in Meijer stores in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Wisconsin and Kentucky; Giant Food Stores in Pennsylvania; Stop and Shop supermarkets in Massachusetts; Tops Friendly Markets in New York and Giant Eagle supermarkets in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“We’re making a lot of traction in the Midwest and Northeast,” said Eric Tribe, the company’s chief marketplace officer. “And we keep going.”

The idea stemmed from the sister of Flash Foods founder Josh Domingues. She is a caterer. After running an under attended event, she watched as they threw out thousands of dollars of food, Tribe said. Upset, she went to her brother, prompting him to research food waste.

As much as “30 to 40% of food produced ends up lost or in landfill,” Tribe said.

In the United States 81.4 billion pounds of food waste worth about $161 billion were generated in 2018, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The Food and Agriculture Organization reports that people waste a third of all food produced for human consumption globally.

“The story became, how can we have an impact as a small tech company,” Tribe said. “It’s a tough problem to solve.”

Although grocery stores do their best to order the correct amount and allocate their stores properly, buyer habit projects a stigma towards products that are less than ideal. So, buyers reach for the better-looking product behind it, Tribe said.

“Logistically, it’s actually really tough getting food to food banks and kitchens,” Tribe said.

Guaranteed food safety from the grocery store to the food banks is costly. The transportation process involves cold storage and proper handling. So they had to think a little differently, Tribe said.

The company started by testing a private program with four Loblaw grocery stores In Canada.

In 2019, it grew from four stores to 450. After the successful rollout, Flashfood started to carry out the program in the United States.

A blogger from Illinois, Cara Hanako, uses Flashfood about once a week, depending on what’s available. She loves how easy it is to use the app along with the quality of the products.

“I think that everyone should take advantage of discounted food that would be thrown out,” Hanako said. 

Discount shopper Kathleen Schmitt uses Flashfood constantly and likes the convenience of the app that gets discount pricing out early and offers promotions to participate, said Schmitt, who lives in New York.

“It helps reduce waste,” she said. ”A lot of people have issues with dates, but sell-by doesn’t mean instantly bad.”

Flashfood has been implemented in over a thousand stores, impacting food waste and food insecurity, Tribe said. “Our mission is to reduce food waste and feed people more affordably.”

Flashfood’s discounted rates have provided families affordable access to fresh food, even through the challenges that the pandemic has brought on them, he said.

With grocers responding to the health and safety needs of shoppers because of the pandemic, Flashfood had to change the way it operated overnight. Instead of Flashfood representatives flying out to possible grocery stores that will implement their program, they turned to virtual meetings and calls. Although it was a stressful time for both Flashfood and grocery stores, the sudden need to adapt to different circumstances strengthened its relationship with the stores, Tribe said. 

Flashfood hopes to expand its impact by increasing its network of stores.

“It’s such a big problem,” Tribe said. “We’re just a little company trying to do our part.”

Shoppers can download the free app from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store. Just open the app to find nearby Flashfood-supported grocery stores and to see deals for surplus food available that day. Next, checkout and pay in the app then pick your groceries up in stores.

What drives farmers to join farmers markets?

By Eric Freedman
Capital News Service

Why do farmers join new farmers markets, especially in poor urban areas where the financial risk is greater than in more affluent communities?

Some rely solely on farm income to support their families. Others are startup farmers seeking new business opportunities.

But for others, the major motivations are their love of gardening or the desire to build community, a new study found. For those farmers, recreational pleasure or a civic mission outweigh economics.

“Farmers markets in low-income, urban areas struggle to establish and sustain themselves,” the study by Michigan State University researchers said. “Accordingly, farmer recruitment and retention remain a challenge.”

Vendors who participated in new low-income, urban markets “to support their livelihoods were the most likely to drop out,” the study said. “Those who farmed for recreation or as social mission were most loyal and did not drop out.”

Overall, farmers markets are booming. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports there were 8,771 nationally in 2019, up from 1,755 in 1994.

The Michigan Farmers Market Association lists 225 on its website, and the executive director, Amanda Shreve, says the actual number may be higher.

While COVID-19 delayed this year’s opening of some farmers markets and led others to new sanitation and social distancing practices, the association knows of only four that didn’t open at all this season.

One was the three-times-a-year special farmers market on the lawn of the Capitol in Lansing. Shreve said. Another was in Munising, because its regular location was unavailable, and there wasn’t enough space for social distancing at an alternate location.

The others were the Grow Benzie Farmers Market in Benzonia and the Grayling Farmers Market.

The Michigan Farmers Market Association lists 225 markets on its website.

Meanwhile, one opened this year, the Marlette Farmers Market in the Thumb, Shreve said.

The expanding popularity of farmers markets has increased competition to attract vendors and created challenges for starting new ones, according to the study published in the journal, “Agriculture and Human Values.”

Lead author Dru Montri said she saw a lot of quick growth during the decade she was the state association’s executive director.

And more farmers markets meant greater competition for vendors, including a growing number of startups that opened in poorer urban areas to provide better access to food, said Montri, who is now the director of government and stakeholder relations at MSU’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The study interviewed vendors from 27 farms at six markets, two of them in each of three cities with higher levels of poverty, unemployment and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps) recipients than the Michigan average. Those markets were all 5 years old or younger.

The study didn’t name the cities.

Farmers who were interviewed at the young new markets fell into four categories:

  •     Full-timers who rely on agriculture for their primary livelihood.
  •     Seekers of business opportunities, such as new farmers, with other income sources.
  •     Self-identified recreational gardeners who sell their products, generally raised on less than an acre, solely for enjoyment and relaxation.
  •     Those with “civic intentions” to use small-scale urban farming “to accomplish larger social goals,” such as youth development and leadership, providing entrepreneurial experience and community organizing.

The challenge of recruiting and keeping farmer-vendors is one of the most urgent concerns in establishing and sustaining a new farmers market, the study said. And that problem is “more pronounced in low-income urban areas where farmers markets are especially vulnerable to failure.”

Montri, who owns a small farm in Bath with her husband, said the findings can help market managers recruit and can help the association’s trainers focus on building community and networks when looking for types of farmers to recruit.

For example, full-timers who depend on farming for livelihoods, choose markets based on sales potential, meaning income, the study said. Five of the 27 fit that category of farmers whose primary goal is to maximize income.

And 13 of the 27 reported that selling at farmers markets provided them a new business opportunity while relying on off-farm income or savings from prior careers.

Recruiting vendors from the other two groups – recreational gardeners and those who are mission-driven – may prove more successful because they don’t depend on market sales to continue operating, the study said.

“Farmers who are most suited to low-income, urban farmers markets may be currently overlooked by market managers who regularly target full-time livelihood vendors,” it said.

New cookbook highlights food of Great Lakes Indigenous peoples

Derek-Nicholas
Derek Nicholas

By Carin Tunney

A new cookbook serves up the culture along with the food of the Indigenous people of the Great Lakes region.

“Eating with the Seasons, Anishinaabeg, Great Lakes Region,” combines recipes, language and the history of the Anishinaabeg (uh-NISH-ih-NAH-bay). The name refers to culturally related tribes of Indigenous people mostly found in Canada and the Great Lakes region.

A hunger to preserve a piece of American culture and a developing interest in food are the main ingredients that prompted the cookbook, said Derek Nicholas, who is a member of the Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, and a senior at University of Minnesota, Morris, in rural western Minnesota.

“Back in the day, elders would take their sons and their daughters out fishing and they would use the language,” he said. “You’d hear how to catch the fish, how to net fish, how to cook the fish. Nowadays that’s just not the case. If we can revitalize the language and the food, or both, it will all come together as one.”

The cookbook includes simple and traditional recipes for each month of the year, including recipes for curried squash soup, venison chili and Nicholas’ favorite, the purple pollinator snack. That’s like a breakfast salad with berries and herbs, he said.

Along with recipes, the book includes Anishinaabemowin phrases like, Ininamawishin zhilwitaan or “pass me the salt.” It reports bits of history like how the people used different moons as a calendar of when to hunt, plant and harvest.

“I think it is important because it’s our story,” Nicholas said. “If we lose our language, we lose our spirit.”

The book also features soft, pastel watercolors by Grace Miller, a University of Minnesota student who met Nicholas’ while volunteering for their school’s gardening club.  A conversation about native foods and plants led him to ask her to get involved, she said.

“My favorite part of the illustrations was chatting with Derek during the creative process and adding the final touches at the end,” she said.

Nicholas, who grew up in the suburbs of Milwaukee, said he had little knowledge of his cultural heritage when he arrived at the rural town in Minnesota as a college freshman. His classes sparked the need to learn more about his ancestors and help serve the community. His interest in food centers on food sovereignty, which is the idea that people deserve healthy and culturally appropriate foods.

Nicholas also created a meals program for low income people and worked to expand healthier options at a local food pantry.

Mary Jo Forbord, Nicholas’ supervisor at the University of Minnesota, said his interest in food might not have been what he expected when he arrived in the small Midwestern town sight-unseen after growing up in suburban Milwaukee, but he made a difference by connecting with community leaders and embracing his cultural roots.

“I believe that food took Derek by surprise,” Forbord said.  “He exclaimed something like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding.’

“He was expecting something different from college than what he saw here. But as he looked deeper, his journey through food in this place led him in a direction where we can all see many good results.”

Nicholas graduates this fall with a degree in economics. He hopes to find work in food systems but may continue to graduate school.

The book is available for free on the University of Minnesota website. Print copies can be ordered at blurb.com for $16.

Nutrition assistance programs for the elderly are failing, federal report says

NUTRITION-ASSISTANCE-TABLE
10 counties with the highest proportion of residents 65 or older. Source: U.S. Census Bureau.

By Joshua Valiquette
Capital News Service

Federal guidelines for nutritional programs fail to adequately address the needs of elderly adults, according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) study done in  Michigan and three other states.

The report called for more oversight over nutritional guidelines for seniors at a time when the state is getting older. By 2030, one in five Michigan adults will be over 65, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

In response to the report, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services said it intends to incorporate the unique needs of older adults into its guidelines but doesn’t have written plans yet to do so.

Sherri King, the nutrition service program leader for Aging and Adult Services in the state Department of Health and Human Services, says that registered dietitians under her supervision haven’t expressed concerns about the current dietary guidelines.

“I am very confident in their skill levels to meet the changing dietary needs,” King said.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, most older adults have conditions associated with bad nutrition like diabetes or heart diseases.

The need to address nutrition guidelines and programs will grow in the coming years because of the rising age of Michigan residents, according to the U.S. Census.

The GAO, a nonpartisan Investigative arm of Congress, did the study in Michigan, Arizona, Louisiana and Vermont to examine how federal nutrition guides address older adults’ needs, how these guidelines are overseen; and the challenges programs face in meeting their nutritional needs.

GAO staff visited Evart, Baldwin, Grandville, Detroit and Troy as part of the study, according to Kathryn Larin, the lead staffer on the report and a director in GAO’s Education, Workforce and Income Security Team.

Although the nutritional needs of older adults can be different than for younger ones, guidelines for them produced by the federal government are similar to those given to much younger individuals, according to the report.

Lynn Cavett, the supervisor for child and adult food programs at the state Education Department, explained that the only difference in nutrition guidelines for the elderly is that “portions are larger and they are able to substitute milk for yogurt.”

Many adult care centers in Michigan use Meals On Wheels to provide food service for the elderly.

Erica Snyder, the nutritionist for Lansing-based Senior CommUnity Care of Michigan, has been using the service since 2015 and said the service follows the nutrition guidelines set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

Overall, Snyder said, beneficiaries’ response to the service is “generally positive.”

Many counties now have almost 30% of their populations over the age of 65, Census data shows.

Alcona County residents are the oldest on average in the state, and the nine others with the highest average ages are in the Northern Lower Peninsula and the Upper Peninsula.

Despite the rising average age of Michigan residents, the demand for programs that feed the elderly or disabled while their caregivers work is still low, according to the Education Department’s Cavett, who oversees the state’s six facilities offering these type of services.

Cavett says that the goal for the upcoming year is to “push to find more adult care programs to come in and use our facilities and resources.”

One reason Cavett pointed to for the lack of interest in such programs is the willingness of younger people to take responsibility for their elders.

USDA does provide some details to help programs ensure meeting the needs of special cases, like individuals with diabetic problems, according to the GAO report.

The report said many food service providers feel that more constant sf interaction with the USDA and more detailed meal plans for the elderly would be helpful.

Lunch shaming pushes senator to reintroduce bill

This story originally appeared on Great Lakes Echo.

By Carol Abbey-Mensah

A Michigan lawmaker is renewing an effort to prohibit schools from stigmatizing students who owe lunch money or lack enough to buy a school meal.

This practice, known as lunch shaming, sometimes involves kitchen staff throwing away students’ hot lunches and offering them cold sandwiches.

While the purpose is to push parents to settle the debts of their wards, it also embarrasses the kids because they are identified and sometimes picked on by their peers.

To curb lunch shaming in Michigan school districts, Senate Minority Leader Jim Ananich, D–Flint, has reintroduced The Hunger Free Students Bill of Rights.

“Sometimes students will receive a substandard lunch, or they are forced to perform chores or wear a stigmatizing wristband,” Ananich said.

His bill aims to prevent these acts by ensuring that school boards not publicly identify or stigmatize students who cannot pay for a school meal or owe a lunch debt.

“No child should be publicly embarrassed in front of their peers due to a low balance,” Ananich said. “Matters of lunch account balances should be taken up with students’ parents.”

All of the Great Lakes states have introduced and passed legislation and programs to tackle lunch shaming. Minnesota was the first to pass a lunch shaming law in 2014.

Apart from preventing the stigmatization of students, the bill would require school boards to ensure the confidentiality of pupils who qualify for free and reduced meals.

A similar bill was unsuccessful in 2018.

Often it requires years of work and introducing a bill several times to finally get it over the finish line, Ananich said.

He predicts that as more parents, students and teachers share stories of lunch shaming policies they see in their schools, more legislators will have an interest in working with me on this legislation.

Poll: Have you or has anyone you know experienced lunch shaming?

Harmony Lloyd who lives in Grand Blanc, Michigan, inspired Ananich’s legislation. She became interested in lunch shaming in 2018 after she heard of a local child’s lunch thrown away due to lunch debt.

“I vaguely recollected hearing stories of kids having lunch debt,” Lloyd said. “But it wasn’t until my son came home and told me the story, that I really began researching the issue.”

Lloyd called a woman in the school cafeteria to check out the story.

“She confirmed that this was the policy and that it happened often,” Lloyd said. “She also shared that the cafeteria workers hated to do it, but were told they would be fired if they gave away any lunches.”

After bringing the issue up at a school board meeting and having a friend donate some money to support the kids in debt, Lloyd was contacted by other parents who shared stories of this still happening.

“This is when I reached out to the media and to Sen. Ananich,” Lloyd said.

Lunch shaming is not new news.

In a New York elementary school about 10 years ago, Tate Wyatt could not afford a hot lunch.

He was embarrassed by the cafeteria staff and got picked on by friends.

“Everyone else would get their lunch and I would get pulled out of the line and told I would get a sandwich and a juice box,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt is not the only one.

At age 15, Evan Lane, then a student in the Fort Wayne Community schools in Indiana, said he went through a similar ordeal, where he would rather go hungry than receive a frozen peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

“It gives me a sour taste in my mouth whenever I think of it,” said Lane, now a senior at Ball College in Indiana. “It ruined entire years of my education, as I was more focused on the fact that I was starving rather than on class.”

It felt as if the school wanted to make profit off of me, rather than actually creating a safe learning environment, Lane said.

Although a bill like this could help with this issue, there must also be good communication and understanding, between parents, school districts and food service workers, said Lori Adkins, a child nutrition consultant with Oakland Schools in Michigan.

“The food service workers must understand what the policies are, so that they will be able to deal with issues like this appropriately,” Adkins said.

When it comes to communicating with parents, school districts are already putting in effort.

“School districts send emails to parents telling them about balances, but sometimes the parents can’t pay because they have fallen on hard times,” Adkins said.

Lloyd also believes that awareness could also help.

As more people become aware of the issue, I think Michigan has a good opportunity to pass common sense, bipartisan legislation that is good for our kids, Lloyd said.

“I have high hopes this will be the year we make it happen,” Lloyd said.