Cameron Caja, a student at the University of Arkansas, observed the large amount of food left over at the campus dining halls and had an epiphany – there is a tremendous amount of good food wasted on this campus every day that could, and should, be served to hungry people. Inspired, he looked into what other higher education institutions were doing, and learned that food recovery efforts were underway on campuses across the country. Caja decided to form a Registered Student Organization (RSO), Razorback Recovery, to pursue recovery of surplus food on campus. However, he realized a key challenge was to develop a reliable and robust system that would serve the needs of the other stakeholders involved — and that would also survive after the founding members graduated.
Fortunately, as Caja notes, “the passion for food recovery at the U of A, and in Northwest Arkansas generally, is amazing,” and he found a ready network of supportive partners. As an RSO, Razorback Recovery was able to marshal the support of the University and to leverage its organizational infrastructure and other resources. Most notably, to ensure succession and sustainability, as well as benefit from existing administrative expertise, Razorback Recovery was adopted as a signature program of the University’s Center for Community Engagement and Volunteer Action Center. The university’s food service provider, Chartwells, also proved to be very supportive of initiating food recovery on campus, and has actively engaged with Razorback Recovery throughout the planning process.
Another crucial partner is the Food Recovery Network (FRN). FRN’s new chapter coordinator worked closely with Razorback Recovery in founding a chapter at the University of Arkansas, providing information (including data from other chapters and the Legal Guide to Food Recovery), advice, and moral support. Soon after Caja formed Razorback Recovery, Ben Simon, FRN’s founder, traveled to Fayetteville for the University of Arkansas Food Justice Summit 2013, where both actively promoted the campus food recovery initiative.
Riding this wave of momentum, Razorback Recovery is currently working with Chartwells on the initial implementation of campus food recovery operations. The first phase will focus on retail establishments managed by Chartwells. “Because much of this food is prepacked in serving portions and may be shelf-stable, working with retail outlets initially will make it easier and safer to get the system up and running,” Caja said. Building on this experience, the next phase will involve recovering surplus food from campus dining halls.
Caja notes that a key challenge, particularly in areas with relatively low population density like Northwest Arkansas, is finding partner organizations that have the capacity to regularly take the surplus dining hall food and serve it to those in need. In response, Razorback Recovery is working with local nonprofit Feed Fayetteville to make sure that the food it recovers reaches local residents grappling with food insecurity.