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People in Your La Jolla Neighborhood: Bishop’s School grad helps launch FarmLink to alleviate food needs

Alex Tsai, an alumna of The Bishop's School, is on the founding team of FarmLink.
Alex Tsai, an alumna of The Bishop’s School, is on the founding team of FarmLink, which connects farms facing a surplus of produce with food banks facing a deficit.
(Courtesy)

Alex Tsai, a 2017 graduate of The Bishop’s School in La Jolla, is spreading the word about FarmLink, a project born of COVID-19 and the food and job insecurity it has created.

Tsai and some of her Stanford University classmates are on the founding team.

FarmLink connects farms facing a surplus of produce — due to decreased demand and a lack of orders from restaurants — with food banks facing a deficit, while at the same time providing wages to farmers and truckers.

“FarmLink helps to restore jobs, prevent produce from ending up in landfills and put food onto the tables of those who need it most,” Tsai said. “FarmLink is eager to show that delivery by delivery, and by the power of a grassroots effort, we can really help to alleviate some of the ramifications of a virus that has disproportionately affected the most underserved populations in America.”

When the pandemic hit, she said, a group of her friends found themselves with time on their hands and wanting to do something positive. In mid-April, they started cold-calling farms and food banks to see where the need was and how they could help. They also reached out to corporations for donations.

As of last week, FarmLink had distributed enough produce for more than 6 million meals; raised more than $1.5 million in charitable donations — all of which goes toward paying the wages of farmers and truckers — and sourced from 35 farms and delivered to more than 140 food banks around the country.

FarmLink, which started this spring, helps transport produce from farms with a surplus to food banks with a need.
(Courtesy)

Tsai herself assisted with a delivery of zucchini to Feeding San Diego.

“After that one shipment, I realized how big an impact I could have in my local community,” she said. “It was actually making a changeable difference. Additionally, FarmLink has given me the unique opportunity to meet people across the country.

“The thing I miss about college [amid COVID-19-driven campus closures] is the interaction with others, and FarmLink gave me a community to invest in during this period. It has been the most rewarding relationship I have had.”

Tsai, a La Jolla resident since she was 13, said the pandemic has provided a “social awakening” to her and others who live in an affluent community.

“Even though they don’t affect me, I know there are injustices that America has not addressed yet — racial and food injustice,” she said. “There is a social awakening this pandemic has brought about … and the beauty of FarmLink is we not only help, but we engage our community who want to join our mission. We have set up a Facebook group with 1,000 members who enjoy keeping up to date with our activities.

“We encourage people to crowdsource money for FarmLink through platforms like Facebook, and if volunteers give us their ZIP code, we can keep them up to date with activities in their area if they would like to volunteer.”

“Food insecurity has always been an issue in the United States — the pandemic merely exacerbated it — and we believe that food insecurity will persist long after COVID-19,” Tsai added. “Thirty percent of the world’s food produced goes to waste, which is enough to feed the world’s hungry four times over. ... We are innovating a better model that enables surplus produce from farms to be provided to food-insecure families.”

Tsai and others at FarmLink encourage volunteers and others to look for ways to reduce their food waste at home.

She suggests composting and other “small steps.” The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has an online toolkit with tips at epa.gov/recycle/reducing-wasted-food-home.

Among the suggestions:

• Plan your meals for the week before you go shopping and buy only the things needed for those meals.

• Look in your refrigerator and cupboards first to avoid buying food you already have, and make a list each week of what needs to be used up and plan upcoming meals around it.

• Find out how to store fruits and vegetables so they stay fresh longer inside or outside your refrigerator.

• Produce that is past its prime can be used in soups, casseroles, stir fries, sauces, baked goods, pancakes or smoothies.

• Learn the differences among “sell by,” “use by,” “best by” and expiration dates.

Learn more at thefarmlinkproject.org.

Editor’s Note: La Jolla Light’s “People in Your Neighborhood” series shines a spotlight on notable locals we all wish we knew more about. If you know someone you’d like us to profile, send an email to robert.vardon@lajollalight.com.