Vegetables donated to Food Shift's Alameda Kitchen. Photo courtesy: Food Shift
Vegetables donated to Food Shift’s Alameda Kitchen. Photo: Food Shift
Vegetables donated to Food Shift’s Alameda Kitchen. Photo: Food Shift

Dana Frasz loves food. She hates waste.

Frasz especially hates when perfectly good produce is thrown into trash bins because of something as silly as aesthetic imperfections. She knows why food was created — to feed people. Still, six billion pounds of fruits and vegetables go to waste each year in the U.S. solely on account of cosmetic imperfections. Meanwhile, 50 million Americans are food-insecure. Frasz finds this completely unacceptable.

“It’s unjust,” said Frasz. “It’s nonsensical, this crazy reality of hunger in the presence of so much abundance.”

Frasz’s early realizations and indignation about food waste drove her to create a food recovery group as a student at Sarah Lawrence College in New York. She’s been involved in food recovery and social justice ever since.

Following her time at Sarah Lawrence, Frasz spent three years at Ashoka, a global organization that identifies and invests in leading social entrepreneurs. It was during that time that she met Robert Egger, founder and President of LA Kitchen and founder of DC Central Kitchen. In Egger’s “community kitchens,” food donated by hospitality businesses and farms is used to fuel a culinary job-training program. Egger’s vision and philosophy resonated with Frasz, who moved out to the West Coast four years ago with a dream of someday developing such a program in the Bay Area.

Frasz currently directs Food Shift, an Oakland-based nonprofit that partners with local communities, businesses, governments and organizations to develop sustainable solutions that reduce both food waste and hunger.

“It’s not enough to just feed people,” said Frasz. “People need more than food, and we need to provide an opportunity for that.”

Carrot soup at Alameda Kitchen. Photo courtesy: Food Shift
Carrot soup at Alameda Kitchen. Photo: Three Daughters
Carrot soup at Alameda Kitchen. Photo: Three Daughters

But even with Robert Egger as a long-distance advisor and a food-obsessed, environmentally-conscious community in which to work, Frasz’s vision for the East Bay was still quite a surmountable task.

Four years in, Food Shift had done well in identifying sources for food recovery (including Andronico’s Markets, which have already saved some $27,000 in reduced waste-disposal costs). They’d connected with school programs, elder-care facilities, food pantries and other organizations in need of food products. But a middle piece was missing — a place in which to transform donated food items to edible products.

“There’s been this dream of creating this kind of program in the Bay Area for a long time,” said Frasz. “A limiting factor has been not having a kitchen.” What do you do with a whole pallet of perfectly ripe peaches? Or hundreds of pounds of misshapen carrots?

Enter Alameda Point Collaborative, another local nonprofit looking to transform local resources and reallocate them in creative ways. Founded in 1999, ACP has acquired portions of the former Alameda Naval Air Station and converted them into 200 units of housing, which provide safe and stable homes for some 500 previously homeless residents, 99% of whom live below the poverty line and most of whom are unemployed. ACP’s 34 acres of property include a garden, counseling facilities, and notably — a kitchen.

“We went to visit and this commercial kitchen was just sitting there empty,” said Frasz. “The light bulbs went off.  This was an opportunity.”

Cooks at work in Food Shift's Alameda Kitchen. Photo courtesy: Food Shift
Sanaz Ebriani (left) and Ronny Miranda (right) at work in Food Shift’s Alameda Kitchen. Photo: Food Shift
Sanaz Ebriani (left) and Ronny Miranda (right) at work in Food Shift’s Alameda Kitchen. Photo: Food Shift

Once she hooked up with Alameda Point, Frasz was able to fully conceptualize Alameda Kitchen, which is based on Egger’s District of Columbia and Los Angeles models. It will give new life to recovered food products, adding value and duration in the community. Alameda Kitchen will also provide jobs and job-training to vulnerable and transitioning populations, starting with the residents at ACP.

“We provide culinary skills and a regular place where they can gain skills and get back into the mindset of being a working person,” Frasz explained. Benefits for residents include training for food handlers’ certificates, personal and professional support, and further employment help. The revenue generated by selling items produced in the kitchen will help pay fair wages to these workers and allow Food Shift to continue to expand its program.

The proposed model will look something like the following:

  • Fruits and vegetables that would normally be thrown out due to cosmetic imperfections will be donated to Alameda Kitchen. Sources include farms, grocery stores and markets. Any additional products needed for kitchen production will be purchased from outside sources.
  • All of the food products will be intercepted by the members of the ACP on-the-job training program (OJT) with oversight from ACP, Food Shift and a full-time chef. (The team is still on the hunt for just the right one.)
  • OJT employees will produce affordable and nutritious food items for sale using the donated fruits and vegetables.
  • Product distribution will be two-fold: Alameda Kitchen will sell its products at a low cost to vulnerable populations such as homeless shelters, elder care programs and after-school programs in low-income neighborhoods. Secondarily, Alameda Kitchen will sell its products at a higher rate to local businesses, and these proceeds will allow the kitchen to subsidize the costs for food-insecure populations.

Of course, it’s not quite that simple. Alameda Kitchen will require a lot of planning when it comes to developing a sustainable business model. It is getting help from Stanford’s Alumni Consultant Team (ACT), which regularly provides non-profits with pro bono consulting expertise in strategic planning, marketing, earned revenue, financial sustainability and growth. “Stanford ACT is helping to do market research and helping us understand what products we can make at what cost,” said Frasz.

Image courtesy: Food Shift
Image: Food Shift

Even with this consulting help, Alameda Kitchen will require a fair amount of funding as it gets its feet off the ground. It is currently in the midst of a $30,000 crowd-sourcing campaign slated to run through Nov. 15. It has reached the half-way point, and Frasz is hopeful looking forward.

While Food Shift’s current work with Alameda is on a county level, Frasz hopes to see the dream spread and expland. “The program is grounded in Alameda, “ she said. “But this is what could be happening everywhere. This is an example of what could happen in our communities.”

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Freelancer Amanda Kuehn Carroll is originally from the cornfields of Nebraska, but she has spent most of her life wandering and wondering, often getting lost in the process. She is fascinated by the complexity...