2024 Bucky’s Award for Conservation and Sustainability Goes to Food Recovery Network

Nathan Jandl, Nandini Saluja, and Christina Treacy pose in front of a red background.
Nathan Jandl of the Office of Sustainability and Nandini Saluja and Christina Treacy of the Food Recovery Network (L-R).

With a plethora of dining halls, badger markets, restaurants, and catered events, surplus food is a common occurrence at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. However, rather than reaching food-insecure students, this excess often finds its way into the trash. Enter the UW-Madison Chapter of Food Recovery Network (FRN), an organization whose mission is to minimize food waste and alleviate food insecurity. FRN has established a “robust system for the collection and distribution of food” around campus, says Nandini Saluja, the Social Media Director of FRN. This year alone, FRN has prevented over 5,700 lbs of food from going to waste, helping reduce methane emissions and saving space in Dane County’s quickly expanding landfill. 

That is why the Office of Sustainability was excited to announce the UW Food Recovery Network as this year’s recipient of the Conservation and Sustainability Award at the annual Bucky’s Award Ceremony, which is hosted by the Center for Leadership & Involvement. The Conservation and Sustainability Award “recognizes an organization or an individual that has gone above and beyond to better their community in terms of sustainability and conservation.  This student or organization demonstrates that they have had an impact on the Madison campus and community in helping to move toward a more sustainable environment.”

The UW Food Recovery Network hosts an impressive two meals a week – a dinner  6:30-7:30pm on Tuesdays and a lunch from 12-1pm on Fridays. Each of these meals average about 50 attendees. FRN is a completely volunteer-run organization with eight students on its leadership team and a rotating crew of students volunteering from other groups. FRN partners with student organizations from around campus to help meet the demands of preparing biweekly meals. 

“Partnering with other student orgs is really big for building our volunteer base … The people who volunteer have a great time and want to come back,” said Christina Treacy, President of UW–Madison Food Recovery Network.

In addition to their day-to-day operations, FRN is constantly innovating in order to reduce food waste and better support the community. For instance, FRN has recently started piloting the new Free Food Alert System that sends out notifications to subscribers about what food is available and where to find it on campus. Additionally, a new partnership with Green Box composting services means that undistributed food can still stay out of the landfill.

Finally, the UW Food Recovery Network engages in social sustainability via campus advocacy work.  “Food justice is huge because food sovereignty and culturally relevant foods and healthy foods are really really important for all people, especially students that do not necessarily have access to those things,” said Christina. 

FRN has worked on surveys to better understand food insecurity issues on campus. That work has resulted in calls for a full-time campus Food Sustainability position that would help increase food security and get the University closer to its Zero Waste Goal.

By: Winston Thompson