Student-run project attempts to match food waste with hunger – from the California Aggie

Volunteers and clients at a food giveaway project at the Davis Night Market.

By Sneha Ramachandran

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found in 2010 that the U.S. wastes approximately 30-40 percent of its food supply, equaling almost 133 billion pounds of food. It is also estimated that 40 million people in the US are food insecure, meaning 1 in 8 Americans struggle to find access to nutritious and sustainable food. 

Yet another statistic that might hit close to home for many is Feeding America’s estimate that approximately 28,320 people are food insecure within Yolo County.

To combat these figures, a group of Davis graduate students founded the Davis Night Market, a weekly gathering in Central Park that attempts to reduce food insecurity and waste in Yolo County by collecting donations of leftover food from local restaurants. 

The market started late last Spring 2019, and since then it has welcomed hundreds of community members. Each Tuesday at 9:30 p.m., volunteers unload a variety of donated food from Davis restaurants onto the picnic tables in Central Park for the community to enjoy. In addition to free food, there is also different music and entertainment each week. The event runs until all the food is gone — until roughly 11 p.m. 

Hannah Yu, a fourth-year economics and communications double major, does project management for the night market and oversees its outreach efforts. She explained the vision for the market in a few concise words. 

“Our whole goal was to make sure that nobody goes to bed hungry,” Yu said. “We wanted to do our best to reduce food waste and feed people in need or those who are food insecure. As a whole, we generally tend to waste a lot of food and restaurants especially are always throwing away food that could easily go to people in need instead of making its way into the trash.”

When the project first began, volunteers reached out to local restaurants and asked for food donations and leftovers after hours. So far, the market has acquired seven vendors including ChickPeas, Upper Crust Baking, Dickey’s, Village Bakery, the Food Co-op, the Farmers Kitchen Cafe and the Barista Brew. 

“It’s really heartwarming to see how much the community wants to give back,” Yu said. “I’m from L.A. and I’m not used to seeing that. It’s really awesome to see how the people in Davis want to help each other out.”

Although the gathering aims to provide support to those who struggle with food insecurity, the market still encourages anyone in the community to come by for free food and good company. 

“We want the entire Davis community to feel welcomed and join us,” Yu said. “When we first started the project, our goal was to address the food insecurity problems not only among the homeless population in Davis, but also the students of UC Davis. We have had a lot of students come by and tell us how grateful they were because they don’t feel comfortable going to foodbanks and I am so grateful that they feel comfortable enough to come to the market and not feel stigmatized.” 

Yu mentioned that Upper Crust Baking was one of the first restaurants to donate to the market even before it was recognized as a community event. The Upper Crust owner and manager, Lorin Kalisky, explained why the restaurant chose to donate their baked goods to the night market. 

“We are happy to donate goods to the Davis Night Market and many other food organizations that help feed people that are food insecure,” Kalisky said. “We have a lot of bread and other baked goods that wouldn’t necessarily go to waste, but would be left over or get old, and we try to waste as little food as possible.” 

Kalisky also said that many of the same individuals associated with the market are involved in other “organizations and initiatives in town trying to alleviate food insecurity.” 

“We want to help nonprofits and charity organizations by donating or sponsoring them,” Kalisky said. “We try to be a very active participant in the Davis community and we are always happy to do what we can to support noble causes.”

Sixth-year ecology graduate student Ernst Oenhinger is one of the founding members of the Davis Night Market and has worked on many other on-campus food sustainability projects including the Freedge and the Food Recovery Network. Oenhinger detailed how the market has tried to reach all members of the community, regardless of socioeconomic background. 

“There are several components that we wanted the DNM to address: one was to reduce food waste and food insecurity, but we also wanted to incorporate a social aspect by involving the community through music and hanging out and interacting with one another,” Oenhinger said. “I think that is what kind of brings it all together.”  

In addition to alleviating food insecurity in Davis, the night market also aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Rather than using a car to transport donated goods, the organization uses bike trailers. 

“We try to at least have one trailer for each restaurant,” Oenhinger said. “The trailers usually have some cool LED lights with the Davis Night Market logo as well as a boombox to play music and keep things fun.”

Moving forward, Oenhinger hopes to see more restaurants donate to the program, with a possibility of designating an additional day of the week to hold the market on. He also expressed his hopes for the project on a larger scale.

“We definitely want to have a model that is copyable by any other community,” Oenhinger said. “This is not something that will work in every city, but we want to make it as adaptable as possible. Our goal is to make a platform that is easy to copy — we want to have everything, from how to make the signs to the proper way to ask restaurants for help on a website or google folder that can be accessed by anyone.”

Read more about this story in the California Aggie

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