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Longmont Food Rescue Seeks to Give Overlooked Produce a Second Life on a Dinner Plate

September 21, 2018

Longmont Food Rescue volunteer Andrew Johnson delivers donated food from the 7-Eleven at Ninth Avenue and Lashley Street to the Longmont Youth Center on Tuesday.

In less than a year and a half, Longmont Food Rescue has collected about 22,000 pounds of food that otherwise would have been trashed.

The executive director of the small nonprofit, Kelly Mahoney, also won the first Sustainability Leader Award from Sustainable Resilient Longmont.

Mahoney started Longmont Food Rescue after she saw the impact that Boulder Food Rescue has on local nonprofits, such as the Boulder Shelter for the Homeless, where she volunteered in the kitchen.

“Boulder Food Rescue has really been an avenue for people to see their own way through food insecurity and to help folks navigate situations they might find themselves in,” Mahoney said. “I knew it needed to come to Longmont because we have food waste here.”

Mahoney said grocery stores often order more than they can sell and can have between 300 and 400 pounds of food waste per day, mostly in produce but sometimes other products, such as bread.

“Sometimes the produce might have a bruise on it or it’s ugly and they don’t want to put it on their shelves because they have a quality they have to meet for customers,” she said. “It doesn’t mean that it’s lacking in nutrition or health qualities. All of it is healthy and nutritious and still edible.”

The key to local food rescues is that the organization doesn’t store or warehouse the food. Volunteers pick up the food from a donor and transport it (oftentimes by bike) directly to the recipient, whether that’s Longmont Meals on Wheels or a an apartment complex that has agreed to receive rescued food.

“If we collect produce, it’s on someone’s dinner plate within 24 hours, before it has a chance to really go bad,” Mahoney said.

Karla Hale, executive director of Longmont Meals on Wheels , said the organization receives donations from Longmont Food Rescue and uses it to educate senior citizens about food and to cook the meals that Meals on Wheels delivers each day.

“We hold a Monday market at the Longmont Senior Center, a little free market. And for some of the items, we may cut them up and serve them. Like for example we had a lemon cucumber and several people didn’t know how to cook it, so we cut it up and let people try it,” Hale said.

Hale said Longmont Meals on Wheels mostly receives donations from the farmers market.

“The stuff we get from the market is all perfectly fine. Sometimes there’s food in there from a grocery store and someone might say ‘There’s a little bruise here’ but you can just cut it off and there’s still so much to use rather than instantly throwing it away. It’s a way to bring life back to the vegetables that no one wants.”

Longmont Food Rescue has a three-fold mission — help retailers such as grocery stores reduce their trash or waste fees by taking food waste off their hands, delivering that rescued food to recipients with no questions asked and educating the community about healthy food and what the Longmont food landscape looks like.

Moreover, Longmont Food Rescue pays particular attention to how food is transported from a donor to a recipient. It encourages volunteers to use the nonprofit’s bike trailers.

“We recently received an electric trike from Whole Foods that can hold almost 400 pounds of food. We use that for our Fresh Food Connect program, where we collect produce from individual gardeners all around town,” Mahoney said.

Longmont gardeners with an excess of fruits and vegetables from their backyard gardens can sign up at FreshFoodConnect.org . A Longmont Food Rescue volunteer will then pick up the food on-demand and bring it to a recipient.

“We ride around town every Wednesday and Thursday, depending on the ZIP code, and pick up produce,” Mahoney said. “Donors just have to pick it and put it on their doorstep or take it to work here in Longmont, whatever works.”

Eventually, Mahoney would like to see Longmont Food Rescue helping more grocery stores, convenience stores and even restaurants repurpose their food.

Collecting prepared food from restaurants would take quite a bit more funding and infrastructure, however, because it has to be treated differently than produce.

As for the grocery stores, Mahoney has a battle convincing them that they can donate food to Longmont Food Rescue and it will get to someone to eat within 24 hours when the large chains typically work with other nonprofits to warehouse the food waste.

Adam Williamson, a corporate affairs representative for Denver-area King Soopers, said that Longmont King Soopers stores donate their food waste to the Feeding America network, which in turn take it to Community Food Share.

For King Soopers, that effort is part of their Zero Hunger Zero Waste by 2025 mission.

A representative for Safeway stores in the area did not respond by press time.

Mahoney said people need to press their local grocery stores on what is happening to the food they can’t sell.

“I’d like to see every retailer donating and I don’t know if that needs to come from a city ordinance level or what,” she said. “The city had this huge push for composting and there are a lot of businesses patting themselves on the back for composting, but they need to realize that in the Environmental Protection Agency pyramid of food waste , composting is among the last resorts. Before they do that or consider giving the food away to be used for animal feed, they need to donate it to people.”

Karen Antonacci: 303-684-5226, antonaccik@times-call.com or twitter.com/ktonacci

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