The shutdown was in full swing in April 2020 when a bunch of Southern California college kids were back home watching the news. They saw video of a line of cars miles long outside food banks as out-of-work Americans struggled to feed their families. Then they read stories about farmers forced to destroy millions of pounds of fruit, milk and produce.
“We started making calls,” says Owen Dubeck, a documentary filmmaker and college student in Los Angeles who in March 2020 helped found a group called FarmLink with a plan to connect one farm — any farm — with a food bank in Southern California.
The students did not get much traction. At first. But when ABC Nightly News featured the nascent effort in May 2020, Dubeck said, “the floodgates opened.”
Hundreds of students across the country joined in. Farmers signed up. Soon the FarmLink Project was moving millions of pounds of fresh, surplus produce from farms to community food pantries. Colorado students worked with two farming cooperatives in the San Luis Valley — Mountain Valley Produce and Farm Fresh Direct — to send fresh produce, mostly potatoes, to four food banks in Denver and Larimer and Weld counties.
In July 2020 the FarmLink project sent 40,000 pounds of fingerling potatoes from Mountain Valley Produce’s farms to the Food Bank of the Rockies. Since then the swiftly growing nonprofit has directed 700,000 pounds of food from San Luis Valley farms to communities in the Front Range, Kansas, Montana and Texas.
A partnership with Denver-based Chipotle has raised $1 million for the project and the student-led nonprofit continues to funnel overstocked farm produce to communities where natural disasters have pinched the flow of food. Now the group is working with food pantries around the country to direct surplus produce toward the hungry and away from landfills, where it rots and emits greenhouse gasses that can warm the climate.
“I think most people aren’t really aware how many Americans are dealing with food insecurity,” Dubeck said. “Or how much food is wasted and sent to landfills.”
He created the “Abundance: The FarmLink Story” documentary to help nudge national action on hunger and food waste. In the first two years, 600 FarmLink students and 4,000 volunteers from 100 campuses across the country moved more than 100 million pounds of food from farms to food banks. The project born to feed hungry Americans during the pandemic shutdown now is hoping to repair the agricultural supply chain that allows as much as 40% of the food grown in the country to go to waste.
“This is just the beginning,” Dubeck said. “We are just getting started.”
Dubeck will debut “Abundance” in Colorado this weekend at the Original Thinkers Festival. The sixth-annual fall gathering in Telluride floats new ideas, innovations and stories to help attendees better navigate today’s world.
The festival that almost wasn’t
The 2023 Original Thinkers was not supposed to happen.
Event founder, David Holbrooke was set to have major surgeries on his feet this fall, repairing a lifetime of issues that had left him unable to stand or walk for long. A couple months ago he sent out an email telling festival fans that this year’s event was not likely, considering the ringleader would be hobbled.
After what he calls “a miracle in the desert” last month, Holbrooke is loping and ambling without pain. And what started as an idea for a smaller, more intimate Original Thinkers earlier this month has evolved into a six-day, multifaceted festival that starts in Telluride and then moves down the valley to the Camp V campground and event space in Naturita.
Holbrooke has assembled a vibrant collection of films, panels and discussions with a focus on healing and resiliency. Holbrooke is a documentarian who has curated 23 festivals in his career, and says this year’s Original Thinkers “is unlike anything I’ve ever worked on.”
“It just came together so organically, so beautifully,” he said.
He’s got his own healer coming to Telluride, joining an herbalist, therapists and several musicians offering sessions and ceremonies alongside five nights of films. The documentaries include “A Revolution on Canvas” detailing the works of tortured and banned Iranian artist Nicky Nodjoumi and “How We Get Free” following Colorado attorney Elisabeth Epps — who is now a state representative — and her work to reform the state’s bail system. “The Eternal Memory” is a reflection on a Chilean couple’s navigation of dementia.
In Naturita, Holbrooke will screen five films under the stars at the Camp V campground along with group dinners, performances, classes, ceremonies and desert hikes. The festival’s guests and films usually probe unexplored corners, exposing perspectives and ideas that are too often overlooked. Click over to originalthinkers.com for tickets and details.