URI launches community education effort to address food waste and access issues

KINGSTON, R.I. – June 23, 2021 – The University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension is launching a new effort designed to simultaneously address the issues of food waste and food security. The new program, Food Recovery for Rhode Island, aims to rescue and recycle food by changing the way Rhode Islanders shop for, store, prepare, preserve and compost it.

“About 100,000 pounds of wasted food enters the Johnston landfill every year, and yet 25 percent of Rhode Islanders experienced food insecurity last year,” said Vanessa Venturini, who is coordinating the program. “Food Recovery for Rhode Island will engage a new group of volunteers to learn something new, share good ideas and take action to strengthen the local food system.”

The program seeks individuals to enroll in a six-week course on food recovery and then complete a 40-hour volunteer internship with a community organization. The course will be held online with complimentary field experiences on farms and in kitchens across Rhode Island.

The goal is to train 120 volunteers in 2021 and 2022 who will then educate an additional 2,500 people about the issue. Through the internship, volunteers will also divert up to 60,000 pounds of wasted food from the landfill and donate 40,000 pounds of healthy food to local families.

“What’s really unique about our approach is that we’ll be supporting community-driven change,” said Venturini. “We’re amplifying the good work that’s already being done by trusted, community-based nonprofits, and training people to return to their own communities as peer educators. The solutions to these systemic issues are not going to be one-size-fits-all; they will come from within the communities themselves.”

The food recovery course will be offered for the first time in September as a hybrid of online learning and in-person experiences located around Providence. It will be repeated in an entirely online version in January 2022 and again as a hybrid in June 2022. The course requires a commitment of 90 minutes of online learning and a 90-minute field experience each week.

“Volunteers will gain skills in canning, freezing, composting, food preparation and storage, community engagement and more,” said Amanda Missimer, URI clinical assistant professor of nutrition and food sciences, who co-founded the program and is developing the course. “You’ll learn from University experts and community practitioners, meet like-minded people. You’ll take action toward change at the individual and collective scale.”

The internship component of the program will be held at one of several community partners. Those interning at Hope’s Harvest, for instance, will lead gleaning trips to local farms to recover surplus food that would otherwise not be harvested. Others will help grow Groundwork Rhode Island ‘s network of community compost hubs in Providence; join Sankofa Rhode Island in sharing ways to prepare and preserve foods grown in the West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation’s community gardens; or help Rescuing Leftover Cuisine distribute leftover food from local restaurants. A fifth community partner will be added soon.

The deadline to apply for the September class is Aug. 1. Cost for the course and training materials is $200, and financial awards will be available. A select number of individuals associated with the partner organizations will receive peer educator stipends to return to their community and share food recovery techniques. For more information, visit https://web.uri.edu/coopext/foodrecovery or email Vanessa Venturini at vventurini@uri.edu.            

Food Recovery for Rhode Island is a program of URI Cooperative Extension in partnership with the Rhode Island Food Policy Council, the Center for EcoTechnology, Earth Care Farm, Farm Fresh RI, Groundwork Rhode Island, Hope’s Harvest RI, Rescuing Leftover Cuisine, Rhode Island Resource Recovery Corp., the Sankofa Initiative of the West Elmwood Housing Development Corporation, and the Tomaquag Museum. The development of the program is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.