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Save Food, Grow Jobs: Creating A Food Recovery Service Sector

ALL IN Alameda County will develop a food recovery service sector that creates high quality paid jobs for food runners.

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In 2014, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan launched ALL IN Alameda County: The New War on Poverty (ALL IN). ALL IN is an innovation incubator within county government; membership consists of community residents, nonprofit leaders, providers, and the business community. ALL IN is an ongoing anti-poverty initiative focused on food security, economic empowerment, and education. A Food Recovery Action Team, formed in February 2016, has surfaced a unique opportunity to accomplish three goals at once: employing people in good, sustainable jobs, feeding hungry people, and reducing the environmental impacts of food waste. In Alameda County, 1 in 5 residents is food insecure. At the same time, food and food-soiled paper makes up about 35% of the waste stream in Alameda County. The Food Recovery Action Team is working together to solve these problems.

Imagine a food recovery service sector that provides jobs to local, hard-to-employ residents. Imagine local businesses that save money on landfill and organics collection by paying a lesser fee for food recovery services. Imagine that food is the smallest single item in the county’s waste stream instead of the being the largest. Imagine Alameda County’s food recovery service sector becoming a model for counties across the country.

The Food Recovery Action Team is conducting research in five areas that will inform the design, plan, and implementation of a county-wide food recovery service sector. These areas have been identified as key components of a food recovery system that will sustainably and equitably address food waste and hunger throughout the county. The five research areas include:

1) Food Security: In what ways can a food recovery service sector reduce food insecurity among the most vulnerable populations, including seniors and the homeless?

2) Environmental Costs and Benefits: What are the environmental costs of food waste? What are the environmental benefits of food recovery?

3) A Paid Food Recovery Workforce: How can county-subsidized jobs transition to sustainable positions within the waste management field?

4) Leveraging Existing Infrastructure: What infrastructure currently exists and what is needed to professionally recover food? How do we collaboratively build and share a food recovery infrastructure?

5) Economic Costs and Benefits: What are the costs and benefits for businesses to participate in food recovery? How can a food recovery service sector be economically sustainable? 


October-December 2016, Phase I: Planning
- On-board Food Recovery Action Team
- Ongoing planning meetings with partners
- Work with Waste Management to prepare and submit a proposal for CalRecycle's Green House Gas Reduction Program (State of California)
- Identify and secure additional funding commitments from government and philanthropic sources
- Identify and map existing food waste prevention and recovery infrastructure
- Design feasibility study to test assumptions of a paid food recovery service sector 
    - Identify population to be served 
    - Identify initial food donors and type of food to be recovered
    - Identify initial food recipient organizations
    - Identify infrastructure needs 

January -March 2017, Phase II: Project Design 
- Conduct feasibility study
- Based on study findings: 
    - Design pricing to incentivize business participation 
    - Design food recovery educational and branding/marketing campaign
    - Design food runner job training program in partnership with Civicorps,     
       Dept. of Environmental Health, and other stakeholders. 
    - Design monitoring and evaluation methodology 

April - June 2017, Phase III: Operations Plan 
- Develop a draft operations plan based on findings from feasibility study
- Secure commitment from initial food donors
- Secure commitment from initial food recipient organizations
- Develop partner agreements/memoranda of understanding for food running operations
- Obtain equipment and agreements regarding infrastructure

July-September 2017, Phase IV: Finalize Operations Plan 
- Finalize operations plan
- Develop expansion plan
- Hire and train food runners

September- December 2017, Phase V: Test, Monitor, & Evaluation Plan 
- Conduct trial runs of implementation plan
- Conduct on-going monitoring and evaluation of trial runs
- Adjust program based on findings

January 2018-March 2018, Phase VI: Implementation 
- Full launch of operations plan
- On-going monitoring and evaluation

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

Because food recovery is already happening in Alameda County in fragmented ways, we have a ready ecosystem for quickly and easily piloting key elements of our plan before committing to major capital investments. There are a number of elements we can test to find out if our concept will meet our expectations; including, pricing models, paid workforce, job training, logistics, branding, marketing, and leveraging existing infrastructure such as transportation and warehouse facilities.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Evaluating Impact on Food Insecurity: How can we effectively map food insecurity, account for changes over time & the program’s impact? Leveraging & Engaging the Community: How can we effectively engage the food rescue/recovery efforts currently underway? Learn from History: What enabled the recycling sector to become institutionalized? Financial Feasibility: What sort of pricing of organic waste collection/franchise agreement language would incentivize food recovery & make it cost effective?

Tell us about your work experience:

Participants in the Food Recovery Action Team have experience in waste management, waste reduction, food recovery, food systems, environmental health, public health, public policy, nutrition, evaluation, and coalition building. We include elected officials, business executives, business owners, nonprofit executive directors, public agency staff, and individuals with lived experience of poverty and food insecurity.

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm

How far along is your idea?

  • It was in the works before this challenge – it’s existed for 2-6 months

How would you describe this idea to your grandmother?

In Alameda County, 1 in 5 residents has trouble getting enough food to eat. At the same time, food and food-soiled paper make up about 35% of the county’s waste. ALL IN is developing a model of service industry jobs that involve delivering donated food, which would otherwise be thrown away, to residents who need it. The goal of this model is to reduce hunger and food waste at the same time.

How is your idea unique to the space?

The effort is unique because of our focus on a workforce-based food recovery model. Nationally and locally, the food recovery sector is underfunded and largely volunteer-based. This has led to critiques about the sustainability and efficiency of food recovery. A critical element of the food recovery service sector we are building is job creation through existing training and employment systems. Our approach has the potential to be a model for other cities and counties to adopt.

Who needs to play a role in your idea in order to make it successful?

The Food Recovery Action Team has the right combination of operational capacity and political will to deliver a solid pilot and take it to scale in a county of 1.6 million people. This collaboration has a diverse group of stakeholders, including Alameda County Dept. of Public Health and Environmental Health, ALL IN, Civicorps, Alameda County Community Food Bank, Waste Management, Food Shift, Port of Oakland, StopWaste, Northern CA Recycling Association, and Oakland Unified School District.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

Continuous monitoring and evaluating will take place to refine our work, and to understand our impact on reducing food waste and food insecurity. Several of our partners already track some of the necessary measures; for example, the volume of food diverted from landfill, and the number of meals served. Other preliminary measures identified include Greenhouse gas emission reductions and jobs created. Qualitative data will also be gathered via interviews with stakeholders.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

The next steps for the Food Recovery Action Team include on-going planning meetings to finalize the design of the feasibility study, which will test the assumptions of our model. Specifically, the next steps for the planning process are to identify recipients and type of food desired, identify donors and type of food to be recovered, define food handling protocols, identify equipment and infrastructure needs, identify additional funding streams for the pilot, and develop evaluation criteria.

Attachments (1)


The Food Recovery Action Team is in the planning phase for the operations plan. We are developing the systems, structures, and relationships needed to conduct trial runs of the operation plan. The attached document provides insight from partners on the scope of this initiative as well as important next steps for our planning.


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On behalf of Alameda County Department of Environmental Health: 

Alameda County Department of Environmental Health’s (ACDEH) mission is to protect the health and well being of the public through promotion of environmental quality.
Our primary responsibility, as a regulatory agency, is to enforce environmental health requirements related to local and state laws at permitted facilities that provide services and products to the public.
However, DEH realizes that If the public doesn’t have access to safe and healthy foods, their health will be compromised. Partnering with other agencies to ensure that the public has access to healthy foods provides an additional avenue to support the community that ACDEH strives to protect.

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