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Nonprofit startup brings students, community together to fight food insecurity

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Stella Delp ’22 kicks off meetings of FarmLink, a nonprofit startup made up of students across universities, with a 10-second burst of energy before getting down to business.

“Just turn on some music, everybody dance, get your blood pumping,” said Delp, manager of internal operations for the group. “I wanted people to get excited and feel present where they are, like we’re all in this together.”   

The FarmLink Project is a “grassroots movement” that connects farmers who have excess produce from COVID-19 restaurant shutdowns with food banks that have increased need due to job loss. The idea was hatched by James Kanoff ’22 in early April and has received national media attention.

So far, Farmlink has delivered almost 300,000 pounds of food and provided $35,000 in economic relief to farmers and truck drivers, according to its website.

“With so many things happening in the world right now that are problematic, we really felt a need to do something,” Kanoff told Stanford News.

Kanoff’s enthusiasm for the project was contagious, soon attracting other students to join it. Daily staffer Alex Tsai ’21  knew she wanted to get involved when he mentioned his project after class, about a week after he had started it. Tsai and Kanoff are both Mayfield fellows, part of a program for Stanford undergraduates and coterms that focuses on entrepreneurship through coursework and an internship. 

“I thought, ‘Wow, that is such a great idea and a really cool project, and I really want to help out,’” Tsai said.

Delp also joined early on, when the team only had five members, and started out calling farms to see where there was excess produce. Since its advent, FarmLink has grown to about 65 people, Delp said.

Each week, the group has an “all-hands” meeting before splitting into team meetings, where volunteers call farms and food banks, coordinate logistics and transportation, reach out to media and more. 

“The reaction from farmers and food banks has been overwhelmingly positive,” Tsai said. “They’re very grateful for what we’re doing.”

Students said one unexpected benefit for members of the FarmLink project has been connecting with other students amid a time of closed campuses that makes meeting new people difficult.

“One of the things that I really miss about Stanford is making connections with random people and people outside of my normal social circle,” Tsai said. “You just don’t get that with Zoom University. With FarmLink, I’ve been able to collaborate with so many like-minded, mission-driven fellow students whom I never would have met otherwise.”

Delp said the project had also helped her make connections across the country, as FarmLink draws its volunteers from universities across the county.

“We have people in New York and Philadelphia and California, and kind of all over the place,” Delp added. “But through this process, we’ve been able to connect and work together on something we all really care about and feel passionately about.”

In addition to Stanford, the team currently draws members from Brown, Cornell, Georgetown, Dartmouth, Harvard Business School and the University of Southern California.

“It feels really special to work on a team of people who care about the same issue — I often forget that I have never met these friends in person and that all of this started only a few weeks ago,” said Jordan Hartzell, a junior at Brown.

Will Collier, a senior at Brown, described the project as an “inspiring” example of connection during a time of disruption.

“Getting to collaborate with such motivated and bright individuals from different backgrounds and institutions has been really worthwhile,” Collier said.

Delp said students from other universities have often brought new perspectives to the table.

“Often, when you’re at Stanford, you’re kind of in that bubble,” she said. “I think it’s really important to have those different perspectives, and I think it’s something that makes our team stronger.”

Moving forward, the FarmLink team wants to continue working on improving the food supply chain, which team members see as flawed.

“I honestly think this is an issue that has persisted and will persist,” Tsai said. “It really does almost take a global pandemic to magnify the effects of such a broken system.”

Delp said the issues that motivated FarmLink’s creation exist independent from COVID-19.

“Food instability and hunger was a need, long before covid hit,” Delp added. “So I think what we’re doing here is definitely still going to be needed and impactful in the future. The question is how we’re going to change and adapt.”

Contact Danielle Echeverria at dech23 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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