Frostburg State’s Food Recovery Network Cuts Food Waste and Feeds People in Need

Oct 4, 2017 10:15 AM

About 46 million Americans rely on food banks to feed themselves and their families each year. Yet the USDA estimates that 30 to 40 percent of America’s annual food production – 133 billion pounds, or $161 billion worth – goes to waste.

Frostburg State University is now working to reduce that disparity in Western Maryland, thanks to the group of students behind Frostburg’s chapter of the Food Recovery Network (FRN). The chapter gained official recognition on Sept. 15, after logging two trial “food recoveries” with FRN’s national organization.

Twice a week, Frostburg’s FRN collects unserved food from Chesapeake Dining Hall and the food court in Lane University Center. FRN donates those collections to the Western Maryland Food Bank (WMFB), which warehouses and distributes food to charities serving 10,000 to 13,000 hungry people each month.

Kristin Ratliff of Cumberland, Md., president of Frostburg’s FRN and junior biology major, first learned of the national FRN project from Tracy Edwards, geography lecturer and Sustainability Studies program coordinator, in her Sustainability 155 class.

“I don’t know that Professor Edwards expected any of us to start a chapter, but a group of us decided that was going to be our project, and it’s taken off from there,” said Ratliff.

Ratliff’s group presented the idea to FSU’s food service provider, Chartwells, and found enthusiastic support from David Glenn, director of Dining Services, and Adam Kenney, executive chef at FSU. The company previously partnered with FRN chapters elsewhere, and Frostburg’s FRN students inspired Glenn.

“It’s great to be able to help those in need, especially within our own community,” said Glenn. “We do what we can to limit the waste, but when we have over-production, it feels great knowing something good can come of it. We look forward to partnering for years to come.”

Frostburg’s dining hall donates full trays of food that were prepared for students but never served. The food court operation provides a wide variety of freshly packaged and cooked single-serving foods such as salads, fruit cups, chicken sandwiches, burgers, soups and more.

Previously, that leftover but untouched food would have gone to feed plants. Since 2015, Dining Services has composted excess and uneaten food for Frostburg Grows, which provides the campus with local produce, but now that composting will primarily be half-eaten food waste that otherwise would have gone into the garbage.

“And all it takes is someone picking it up and driving it somewhere, and suddenly that food is actually going to fulfill its purpose,” Ratliff said.

The weight of FRN’s contributions is rapidly adding up. Three recoveries from Chesapeake have diverted a total of 237 pounds of food to WMFB, and four recoveries from Lane have diverted another 165 pounds. In just three weeks, FRN has provided more than 400 pounds of food to WMFB.

Amy Moyer, who organizes food drives and fundraisers for WMFB, said FRN’s donations have already proven popular among the organizations and people WMFB serves. Trays of cooked food from Chesapeake Dining Hall go to organizations that serve meals directly to people in need. The freshly prepared vegetables, salads, sandwiches and other items from Lane University Center have also moved quickly. Such fresh, ready-to-eat foods are often prohibitively expensive in stores.

“It’s definitely making a difference,” said Moyer. “People have been very pleased with it.”

Students wishing to join Frostburg’s Food Recovery Network chapter can find the organization’s page on Bobcat Connect. To learn more about the national Food Recovery Network project, visit www.foodrecoverynetwork.org.

To learn more about the Western Maryland Food Bank, visit http://www.wmdfoodbank.org.

Situated in the mountains of Allegany County, Frostburg State University is one of the 12 institutions of the University System of Maryland. FSU is a comprehensive, residential regional university and serves as an educational and cultural center for Western Maryland. For more information, visit www.frostburg.edu or facebook.com/frostburgstateuniversity. Follow FSU on Twitter @frostburgstate.