Palisadians Earn Congressional Medal of Honor Service Act Award for Fighting Food Insecurity Through The Farmlink Project
By LILY TINOCO | Reporter
Palisadian founders of The Farmlink Project James Kanoff and Aidan Reilly are on a mission to end hunger in the United States by repurposing millions of pounds of food that would otherwise be thrown out.
The nonprofit organization was founded by college students to create a sustainable food system by repurposing surplus produce.
Kanoff and Reilly said they kicked off the project when they were sent home from their college campuses in late March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They said as a health crisis was unfolding, they grew aware of a simultaneous economic crisis.
“In 2019, 35.2 million people in the US lived in food-insecure households, and due to the effects of COVID-19, more than 54 million people [were] estimated to experience food insecurity in 2020, including a potential 18 million children,” according to the Farmlink website.
Kanoff said he remembers being on the phone with Reilly discussing articles that reported massive amounts of food going to waste—all while their local food bank was struggling to meet its demands.
“We talked for about three hours, and agreed we were going to drop everything and go for this,” Kanoff said to the Palisadian-Post.
“With closures to schools, hotels and restaurants, the pandemic was forcing farmers to throw away millions of pounds of fresh food every day,” the pair shared. “At the same time, millions of Americans were out of work with mile-long lines forming at food banks all across the country. We started Farmlink by taking this really, really big problem and making it really, really small.”
The two called local farmers and food banks to understand what their separate needs were and to find ways to help. They said they called hundreds of farmers looking for surplus produce and found one that had eggs. They rented a truck themselves and delivered 11,000 eggs from the ranch to Westside Food Bank.
From there, the duo rallied a number of friends and created The Farmlink Project. To date, the organization has 250 students on its team, comprised of students from colleges and universities across the nation.
“We connect farms with excess produce to communities in need, and have delivered 30 million pounds of fresh produce across the country since founding 11 months ago amid the pandemic,” Reilly and Kanoff said to the Post. “The name ‘Farmlink’ seemed to encapsulate that since we were literally linking farms to food banks.”
The USDA estimates that 30 to 40% of the food supply in the United States goes to waste every year, the Farmlink website reported.
Reilly currently attends Brown University while Kanoff attends Stanford, but the friends share roots in Pacific Palisades: The two said that they have been best friends since meeting at St. Matthew’s Parish School in sixth grade. Kanoff lived in Marquez Knolls, while Reilly lived nearby on Sunset Boulevard.
Reilly later attended Loyola High School and Kanoff went to Harvard-Westlake School, but the two remained friends through the years.
Reilly and Kanoff were named the 2021 recipients of the Service Act Award from the Congressional Medal of Honor Society for their humanitarian efforts on National Medal of Honor Day, Thursday. March 25.
The Congressional Medal of Honor Society will recognize Reilly and Kanoff in a ceremony slated for July 14 in Charleston, South Carolina, where they will accept the award on behalf of The Farmlink Project.
“Aidan Reilly [and] James Kanoff from Pacific Palisades were chosen for their selfless service as they responded to a nationwide crisis during (and because of) a global pandemic to create a grassroots initiative—Farmlink Project—connecting farmers with surplus products to communities in need,” according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society 2021 awards announcement.
“Nobody working on this project joined to get awards, money or a resume builder,” the two said. “The fact is it’s simply too demanding of a volunteer job for those who aren’t truly invested in making change … our team mindset has been one of setting lofty, arguably unreasonable goals and then working relentlessly toward them. This award has been a stamp of validation for the team.
“We took pride in the naive belief that we could make a national impact, and each milestone we pass has just further cemented that stubborn viewpoint that we can grow faster, do more and impact deeper.”
Farmlink recently teamed up with United Hands of Compon to help provide food to local families on Saturday, April 17.
“Thank you Farmlink Project community for assuring food for thousands of families in our community and surrounding cities,” the nonprofit organization shared on Facebook.
To date, Farmlink has delivered fresh produce to over 360 communities in 48 states—but the duo knows their work is far from over.
“Although the pandemic exacerbated the issues of food waste and food insecurity, each existed before and will exist long after,” the two shared. “Our success is contingent upon building more trust with farmers across the U.S., always distributing our food sustainably and equitably, and never losing the grassroots, scrappy, fed-up culture that has defined this thing from the start.”
For each $100 Farmlink raises, a family of four can be fed for one month.
“If we’re successful in our mission today,” the two concluded, “Farmlink won’t have to exist in the future.”
For more information, visit farmlinkproject.org.
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