Ben Collier and Aidan Reilly co-founded 'The Farmlink Project' during the COVID-19 pandemic to connect local farmers with food banks in need of fresh produce.
When the COVID-19 pandemic reached its peak in the United States in 2020, hospitals across the nation struggled to keep up with the influx of patients, and the death toll crossed hundreds of thousands. At that time, the situation was dire, as the highly contagious virus was spreading rapidly throughout the country, causing widespread panic and uncertainty.
Furthermore, the pandemic was taking its toll on the country's food supply chain, with workers falling ill and businesses shutting down, creating disruptions in the production and distribution of food. Ben Collier and Aidan Reilly, both 21 years old and juniors at Brown University at the time, found themselves abruptly sent home from campus. While Reilly headed to Los Angeles, Collier returned to his home state of Connecticut, reports PEOPLE.
As they settled into life back at home, the two young men observed the severe labor shortages that were causing significant amounts of food produced by local farms to go to waste. At the same time, food banks across the country were struggling to keep up with the unprecedented demand for their services, as millions of people faced food insecurity due to the pandemic.
Reilly explained: "There was bad news every single day, and we're like, 'Where can we help?'" Inspired by this observation, Collier decided to join Reilly in L.A. where to launch “The Farmlink Project,” an organization that aimed to bridge the gap between local farmers and food banks. The idea was simple - to connect farmers who had excess produce with food banks in need of fresh, healthy food.
Collier said, "A month later we'd delivered a million pounds of food, and we're like, 'We haven't even really started this thing.'" The Farmlink Project has managed to gather over $15 million in funding and has distributed more than 100 million pounds of excess food to food banks and communities across the country through a network of 600 student volunteers who have joined in the project's expansion.
Reilly, now 24, based in L.A. with Collier, 24, said, "This was such a clear solution to fix two gigantic problems — it kind of smacked us in the face." Apart from providing meals to families, The Farmlink Project has prevented food waste from ending up in landfills, which would have otherwise contributed to greenhouse gas emissions, thus making a significant contribution to the environment.
Reilly mentioned that using metrics approved by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, their actions are estimated to have prevented 350 million pounds of carbon dioxide from adding to the issue of global warming.
Someone close to me is involved in The Farmlink Project, a nonprofit started by college students to help feed families during the pandemic. They have moved over 3 million pounds of food to Americans that need it most.— doc rivers (@DocRivers) June 13, 2020
Let’s support these students at https://t.co/OqF0EJF2ja
The duo, along with their full-time employees, Claire Rider and Thea Petrovich, have initiated a field fellowship program worth $100,000 for student volunteers. The objective of this program is to create future leaders who will make a significant and lasting impact in the food conservation sector. They aim to double their reach and efficacy every year, as part of their expansion plans.
Reilly said, "This will be our lasting legacy" and Collier added, "We're trying to create systemic change in all of this. And giving young people the opportunity to be involved in the food system is really powerful."
They believe The Farmlink Project is only in its early stages as they approach its third anniversary. Reilly said, "We'll be happy if, in the next five years, we can move a billion pounds of food and bring more smart, young, motivated people into this space and enable them to have an impact. We want to end the stigma around what it means to receive charitable food in this country, long-term." Collier added, "Every few months, I look back and Farmlink feels like a completely different organization. It still feels like we're just at the start of all of this."