It’s been a year of transition and bringing enthusiastic new team members into the operation at Table to Table. We’d like to take a few minutes to recognize the contributions of the staff, student leaders, and AmeriCorps team since last summer.
Staff Team Transitions & Additions
We bid a fond farewell to Program Coordinator Ezra Schley in July 2022, who had been with us since summer 2020. That September, Chaim Jensen joined T2T as our newly-titled Logistics & Relationships Coordinator. Having worked on the supply side of the food system for years, Chaim understands all too well the barriers and opportunities to reduce food waste. His work also helps T2T build and maintain relationships with food donor partners. He says he “was attracted to the problem-solving aspect of the position, knowing that no two days are the same.” He’s right: that’s the very nature of food rescue!
T2T added a new (and proven essential!) full-time staff position to our team in November 2022. Operations Coordinator Elizabeth Wagner was first introduced to T2T in her work at longtime food donor partner New Pioneer Co-op, where she developed an interest in the local food system and got to know food vendors and producers. “I was really drawn to T2T’s community-focused approach and dedication to fighting food waste,” she says. “Community engagement and sustainability are two passions of mine.” Her new position improves our software and data abilities, supports our fleet and facility, and ensures daily operations run smoothly to support T2T’s growth.
Program Assistant Steve Noack, known as a friendly face to greet volunteers and launch them on their food rescue routes each morning, fully retired (motivated in part by his adorable new grandson) in fall 2022. The team welcomed Gina Hudson into this part-time role in December, with the new, more-descriptive title of Dispatcher & Driver. Gina brings her volunteer experience at food banks and farm animal sanctuaries to this role that involves much communication with volunteers, food donors, and food access partner organizations. “It is a human right to have access to food and to nutritious food,” she says. “I believe this is also a crucial environmental issue by rescuing the food and keeping it out of the landfills where food becomes a substantial contributor to climate change.”
AmeriCorps Service Members
At the end of 2022, Table to Table bid a fond farewell to our Data Systems Coordinator, Alex Courtney. Each day since we’ve utilized software he helped us tailor to our specific food recovery needs during his AmeriCorps service term and later as a part-time staff member. At the beginning of Alex’s service in early 2021, T2T was tracking over two million pounds of 10,000+ food pick-ups and deliveries, 150 partnerships, and hundreds of volunteers on paper and in Excel spreadsheets. Alex ushered our technology into the twenty-first century, enabling us to analyze all sorts of data points that tell us about food sourcing, distribution, and to understand critical patterns in the hunger relief network as a whole. With this data at our fingertips, we can take action to improving our network and continue to connect as much nutritious food as possible to our most vulnerable neighbors. (Join a virtual demonstration of this technology in action on November 29!)
In November 2022, Nora Garda completed her second service term as AmeriCorps Gleaning Coordinator through the ISU 4-H Outreach program. Nora helped lead T2T to recovering more than 40,000 pounds of local produce during the 2022 growing seasons. Hear her love for connecting fresh food from the growing community to our neighbors straight from Nora: she wrote this insightful reflection on a gleaning season after her first service term in 2021.
Throughout summer 2022, two local produce recovery AmeriCorps service members supported this work. Molly Suter worked closely with Nora in gleaning coordination to schedule and lead gleans with local farmers and volunteers. Alyssa Schaeffer planned and implemented T2T’s free produce stands. She helped create a regular produce stand schedule and reached additional folks through free produce coolers for self-service at community events.
Also in summer 2022, seasonal AmeriCorps service member Lillian Poulsen developed food access education and diversity, equity, and inclusion training materials requested by food recipient partner agencies. “Supporting marginalized communities, especially in terms of better equipping volunteers and other people who want to help, drew me to this position. I’ve always been someone who’s willing to listen and wants to hear stories from others,” she says of the role.
Ngonyo Mungara joined the team as a COVID-19 Recovery AmeriCorps member during the first half of 2023 for general food rescue program support to support route based rescue and increase food donations. “It was a pleasure to get to know volunteers from so many different walks of life and learn why they like volunteering for Table to Table,” she says of one of her favorite aspects of the role. “I liked that each day was something different; you never get bored at T2T!” During her tenure she took our first steps in partnering with grocers offering specific cultural foods. She is excited to see this program to access culturally appropriate foods continues to grow. She notes, “Johnson County is becoming an increasingly diverse area and there is a need for more culturally relevant foods in pantries to support these communities.”
Lisa Truong and Marquis Heard served as local produce recovery AmeriCorps members in summer 2023. Lisa took on farm, orchard, and garden glean coordination, forming relationships with new partners and coordinating at least 25 gleans during her four month term. She also transitioned the program to a regular schedule that fit farmer needs, an enhancement that increased gleaning opportunities and produce output. As a bonus, she frequently baked veggie-based desserts to share. Vegetables + Desserts = Delicious! Marquis coordinated free produce stands, setting a regular schedule for each produce stand location and helping to translate free produce stand materials. We’re so happy he is continuing his service at T2T in a yearlong term through Green Iowa AmeriCorps.
Practicum & Internship Students
Amiya Jones sought out T2T as a partner for completing her Masters in Social Work practicum during the 2022-2023 school year. She was excited to learn more about environmental and food justice work in nonprofits through working closely with T2T executive director Nicki Ross. “I have always been passionate about food insecurity and building self sustaining communities within my journey as a social worker,” she said of her role. Amiya supported T2T’s efforts to revise our mission statement and implement values, practices, and training to support equity and access initiatives.
Lauren Wegmann, a student in marketing and philanthropy, jumped right into helping T2T plan our annual dinner in spring 2023. Her enthusiasm helped T2T surpass our fundraising goal for the event!
Whew! So many transitions and so many wonderful team members!
With all those transitions, the rest of the crew can’t be overlooked: we continued to have throughout fiscal year 2023 our seasoned Executive Director Nicki Ross, Communications & Development Coordinator Anne Langebartels (now Hlavacek), Volunteer Coordinator Jared Long, part-time Bookkeeper, Celia Eckermann, and Programs & Services Manager Allison Gnade, who celebrated one year in the role this past February.
View our current staff & Board of Directors team on our website.
It is with heavy hearts that we honor the life and legacy of a remarkable individual, Kenn Bowen, who dedicated himself to serving his community as a Veteran for Peace, advocate for immigrant rights, and as a food rescue volunteer with Table to Table. Alongside his beloved wife, Pat, Kenn selflessly stepped forward during a time of great volunteer need, leaving an indelible mark on our organization and the lives of those he touched.
We’re thinking of Kenn and Pat this week as we get our produce stand schedule started for the summer. Kenn & Pat volunteered at our Free Produce stands during the summer months, building community and distributing fresh produce with a smile and a kind word. This was in addition to faithfully covering their weekly route. Together, Kenn and Pat were an unstoppable duo, always willing to lend a helping hand wherever it was needed.
At a gathering of T2T volunteers last summer at Big Grove, AmeriCorps member Alyssa remembers her first encounter with Kenn, who would become a regular volunteer in the program she led: “From the moment we struck up a conversation, it was clear that Kenn had a knack for storytelling and ‘dad’ jokes. He effortlessly embodied the welcoming and inclusive nature of Table to Table, making everyone around him feel at ease.”
Each time he saw Kenn, T2T Volunteer Coordinator Jared Long would share his own weekly joke, and it became a lighthearted goal to elicit an eye roll from Kenn — a small victory that Jared cherished. Kenn’s quick wit and dry humor reminded us not to take ourselves too seriously and added a touch of levity to our work. His clever quips, travel stories, and engaging discussions on current events made him an unforgettable presence.
Kenn never held back from sharing his thoughts and opinions, providing valuable insights and feedback. His honesty and engagement in our work were qualities that we greatly respected. We knew that when Kenn expressed his views, it came from a place of genuine care and a desire to make a difference. His candidness was appreciated in the environment of open dialogue and growth T2T works to cultivate.
We mourn the loss of a dear friend, a dedicated volunteer, and a man of integrity. But let us also celebrate the profound impact he had on our community. In honor of Kenn Bowen, let us carry his spirit forward. Let us continue the vital work he began, being a true friend, advocating and lifting the voices of our most vulnerable neighbors, and bringing comfort to those in need. May we approach our tasks with the same dedication, passion, and humor. His legacy of compassion and service lives on in our hearts and in the continued efforts of Table to Table.
According to the 2022 Iowa Statewide Material Characterization Study conducted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, approximately 20.4% of what ends up in the Iowa City Landfill is food waste. In 2022, the Iowa City Landfill properly landfilled 130,109.46 tons of garbage from our service area – Johnson County, Kalona, and Riverside. Of that, about 26,542 tons was food waste.
While that is a lot of food waste, we are thrilled to report that our Johnson County community has successfully reduced landfilled food waste. The last waste characterization study was conducted in 2017 and found that food waste made up over 25% of materials entering the Iowa City Landfill. A 5% reduction might not seem like a lot, but in fact, that equates to over 6,000 tons of food! Way to go, Johnson County community!
Why do we want to reduce food waste and keep food out of the landfill?
When food is wasted, it wastes all the resources that went into growing, manufacturing, distributing, and transporting that food. At the landfill, once garbage is compacted into place by our trained Landfill Operators, there is no air (oxygen) or light in a landfill hole. This is the perfect environment for methane, a very potent greenhouse gas, to be produced in the absence of oxygen and in the presence of so many organic materials (food waste). One of the best things each of us can do to take climate action is to reduce food waste.
A great alternative for food waste disposal is composting. While we encourage good, edible food to be eaten as the first priority, we will always have the inevitable banana peels, eggshells, and coffee grounds that we want to responsibly dispose of. Composting is a great option for those items! For a deep dive into composting, check out this Love Food, Fight Waste article on composting.
Who is recovering food in Johnson County?
That 5% reduction in food waste over the past five years was aided in part by Table to Table’s (T2T) increase in food recovery. T2T saw up to a 60% increase in the amount of food rescued annually since the last waste audit.
Table to Table manages a complex food rescue network throughout Johnson County involving more than 100 food donors and 50 recipient organizations. Food donors include area stores, warehouses, processors, restaurants, farms, markets, and gardeners that donate their unsold or extra food to Table to Table. T2T volunteers deliver this food directly to organizations that are serving our neighbors in need so this food reaches people as quickly as possible. These organizations include food pantries, shelters, hot meal sites, and youth programs that connect rescued food to our neighbors. Ultimately, people rescue food by eating it: using it for its intended purpose!
In 2022, T2T recovered 2.2 million pounds of food, redirecting it throughout our community where it was needed and feeding more than 22,000 people. More than half of this food is produce, protein, and dairy. Remember that the top five most commonly wasted foods are apples (produce), potatoes (produce), cheese (dairy), milk (dairy), and bread. T2T is making a huge local impact in these most-wasted categories.
T2T rescued food provides about half the total food that the three largest local pantries distribute. Plus, recovered food helps provide more options, including vegan and gluten free foods and a variety of produce grown locally.
- Rescue food in our community! If you have a little extra room in your schedule on weekday or Saturday mornings, sign up to volunteer with Table to Table. Volunteer opportunities include recovering and delivering food on food rescue routes, prepping our food rescue vehicles, and harvesting veggies in farm fields this summer. Visit T2T’s volunteer page, email firstname.lastname@example.org, or call 319-337-3400 for more information.
- Educate yourself on local options to donate extra food and personal care items. Here are just a few wish lists from organizations serving our neighbors:
- 2022 Iowa Statewide Material Characterization Study
Iowa Department of Natural Resources article: “A Land of Plenty Wasted – Food Waste in Iowa”
Iowa City Press Citizen article: “Johnson County residents get access to free, healthy food thanks to local nonprofits”
Did that apple you’re eating come from five miles down the road, or is it more well-traveled than you are? Reduce your carbon footprint and benefit your health by choosing local food.
Monthly Topic Overview
Why does choosing local food matter?
“Choosing local whenever in season and when possible, as often as possible, strengthens a community-based food system,” says Michelle Kenyon, director of Field to Family, an Iowa City-based nonprofit that works to create a healthy and sustainable local food system. “Community food systems enhance the health of our economy, environment, and our population.”
Let’s go in-depth with benefits:
- Choosing local food reduces transportation-associated greenhouse gas emissions.
- Significant greenhouse gas emissions are associated with food logistics. Most conventional food travels over 1,000 miles to get to us, the consumers. (To put that into perspective, that’s like driving to Boston from Iowa City.) Almost one-fifth of carbon emissions in the food system are from burning fossil fuels to transport (and refrigerate) food via trucks, trains, boats, etc. With a greater distance to travel, there’s also a higher chance of food spoiling or being damaged on its journey, leading to more food waste.
- Choosing local food offers fresher, more nutritious options that benefit your health.
- Food sourced locally spends much less time in transit from the farm to your plate, which means it loses fewer nutrients before you eat it. Plus, it’s fresher and tastes better. Eating local encourages you to eat with the seasons, learning when certain types of produce are at their peak for quality and taste.
- Plus, many local farmers take environmental health into consideration when growing food, using sustainable practices to increase biodiversity and protect pollinators.
- “‘Know your farmer, know your food’ is absolutely true, as local farmers are transparent when it comes to their growing philosophies,” Kenyon says. “Those who implement growing practices that are committed to improving soil, water, and air health are upfront about it.”
- Choosing local food strengthens our food system.
- When you purchase local food, you’re supporting local farming, processing, and distribution jobs, keeping your dollars in our local economy. The more of our local dollars that go into local food, the more local food is grown in our region. Those dollars invest in the future of our food supply.
- In addition to food, agritourism supports our community’s economy. Participating in local activities like farm to table dinners, goat yoga, and apple picking ultimately support folks living and working in our communities.
How can I access local food in Johnson County?
Now that you understand the difference that eating local can make, let’s delve into how you can access local foods in Johnson County. Our community is host to a lot of quality local food options, including these listed:
- Farmers Markets offer seasonal local foods and goods sold by our neighbors. Markets typically run May-October. Check out this list of Johnson County Farmers Markets.
- If you’re looking to order local foods online, Field to Family offers an online farmers market beginning Earth Week, April 17.
- Many local farms offer community-supported agriculture (CSA) shares for purchase. Vegetable shares are seasonal and subscription-based. Find a local CSA with this guide to Iowa CSA farms.
- Want to grow your own produce? You can’t get more local than that!
- Try your hand at gardening in your backyard; or, if your space is limited, container gardens kept on patios, steps, or in windows are excellent for growing your own tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, lettuces, strawberries, and herbs.
- Iowa City community garden plots are another great option for planting your own garden or gardening with friends.
- Plus: share your bounty and grow an extra row to donate to Table to Table! Drop your donations off at the Table to Table office in Pepperwood Plaza, 1049 US-6 E, Iowa City on weekdays or Saturday mornings.
- Shop local at the grocery store. Wherever you shop, check labels when you’re shopping to see where the food you’re planning to purchase came from.
- Free produce stands are hosted throughout the growing season at locations in Iowa City, Coralville, and North Liberty, stocked with fresh, local produce, free to all. Keep an eye on social media for Table to Table, CommUnity, Coralville Community Pantry, and North Liberty Community Pantry later this spring for details.
- Learn about how you can access local food in our area with Field to Family’s resources.
- Next time you go to the grocery store, pick out three produce items and check the labels. Where are the items from? Are they local or from a faraway place?
- Learn more about Field to Family’s “Farm to School” Month, educating the next generation about local agriculture (video).
- Watch “Dirty Food Chain: Why You Should Know Where Your Food Comes From” (video)
- Healthline lists seven great reasons to eat local foods.
- Check out Field to Family’s Local Food Explorer.
- Field to Family explains: “Where does your food come from?”
- Ecowatch lists 10 reasons to eat local.
- Emory University analyzes energy that goes into food production and distribution (2010).
- Nature discusses CO2 emissions from transporting food.
- Reference this Iowa Fruit and Vegetable Harvest Calendar to learn when your favorite produce is at its peak.
Iowa City, Iowa, March 20, 2023 – Table to Table (T2T), a volunteer-based Iowa City non-profit organization that recovers and delivers half the food distributed to people facing food insecurity in Johnson County has had services disrupted after theft of catalytic converters from their food rescue vehicles.
Upon arriving at T2T to launch food rescue routes this past Friday morning, T2T staff and volunteers discovered two vehicles were completely disabled, missing their catalytic converters. This pricey part has been the target of a nationwide rash of thefts. While this stolen part may get thieves only $50 to $300 at a scrapyard, this small nonprofit will have to pay $1,500 to $3,000 to repair and replace the parts, and then even more to protect these vehicles and the others from future catalytic converter theft.
With just a small fleet of refrigerated cargo vans, T2T volunteers collect and redistribute 45,000 pounds of food each week in Johnson County. This is a critical lifeline local neighbors need now more than ever due to drastic reductions in SNAP benefits enacted in April of 2022, and a dramatic increase in food prices that have led to a rapidly changing (increasing) food insecurity landscape in Johnson County. As resources at T2T’s local partner organizations including local food pantries and emergency meal sites are stretched thinner and thinner, every pound of food T2T can deliver is critical. Due to these thefts, T2T is currently operating without a quarter of their regular fleet, making it harder to capture all the food available as long as the vehicles are out of commission.
T2T needs community support to get the vehicles back on the road and bring operations back up to full capacity. Costs estimated for the affected vehicles exceed $5,000 and estimates to protect their remaining vehicles is not yet known. To donate, please visit table2table.org/donation
Table to Table is a Johnson County non-profit that bridges the gap between abundance and hunger. Table to Table volunteers keep wholesome, edible food from going to waste by collecting it from local food donor organizations and distributing it to local anti-hunger organizations. T2T has distributed well over 30 million pounds of food locally since its founding in 1996.