How to build a foodsaving community

While foodsharing started and grew within the borders of German-speaking countries (Germany, Austria, Switzerland), many have already taken the concept much further. There are functioning foodsharing groups in the Netherlands, the UK, Spain, Italy, Sweden, and all the other ones we don't even know about! Follow their example and just do it. Here is some practical advice that could come in useful in your new mission of enabling people to save beautiful, edible food on a daily basis.

Additional resources

Building a foodsharing community

Come gather 'round, people

Remember that the most important part of a sharing community is a community! Before you can actually start with any foodsaving, you will need to build up a reliable network of foodsavers. There is a lot of food to be eaten! So gather your trustworthy, dedicated friends and then reach out to local strangers and invite them to save food. Start an awareness raising campaign to get them on board!

  • contact the existing alternative infrastructure like student committees, green offices, housing projects etc.
  • publish an article in a local newspaper or give an interview on local radio
  • get super active on social media to reach out even further

There are many activities that can be set up to get to know each other and create bonds. Here are some ideas of events that we found relevant, fun, easy to organize and engaging:

  • Brunch with saved food : if Sunday brunch is a thing in your town, there will surely be open-brunch cafés and restaurants who usually have a lot of yummy leftovers that can be saved. Get in touch with them, bring a lot of containers, from small to big, and save it! If you have access to a location nearby like a neighborhood center, a foodsaver's living room or a park in the warmer days, you can invite your whole community to join for a late and sustainable Sunday brunch (smile)
  • Saving at festivals: Music festivals are a great saving opportunity, not only for food but for various items people leave behind there. It also is fun to go to a festival with your friends! So why not combine the two? Here you can find more detailed information on this idea.

Of course it is as important to keep the people around as gathering them, so be sure to be nice to each other! If there are some who don't get what this means, you may want to refer to more clearly formulated criteria. In that case have a look at our guideline for nice cooperation (among the team members, in this case).

As big as possible while still managable

Some sort of membership control can become useful if your initiative grows fast. There are many ways to implement this and how you organize your rising network is completely up to you. For example, has reached 17,000 volunteer members after 4 years of existence. Such a rapid growth is certainly a sign of good health, but it also meant introducing a selection process for membership. All people who want to join for example the German platform must pass a 10 minutes quiz which evaluates if they have understood the basic internal guidelines. This is to ensure that members are serious about saving food, know that they will have to spend time in doing so and really understand what the foodsharing philosophy is all about. Some sort of membership control can become useful in case your initiative grows so fast, that things get messy. It's completely up to you how you wish to organize your rising network. You are very welcome to get inspiration from, or to come up with a whole new system. In that case, please let us know how it's working!

For some behavioral standards example, please refer to the checklist 'Professionalism for foodsavers' within the cooperation mini manual.

  • Make sure you keep a secure database of your members with contacts and addresses, respectful of data privacy and protection laws
  • Map the members out, it will give you a clearer overview of who can help where

Organizing the foodsaving

Building sustainable relationships with stores

Make sure you have enough volunteers to back up the daily pick-ups! It is important that the store considers your group as reliable, and that you keep on delivering on what you promised instead of making them wait for people who do not show up.

Here is a small manual on how to give businesses a good first impression, an appealing second one and make the third irresistible!

A real kick-off would be the participation of a whole branch of supermarkets. You would need to address the key account manager of this chain and not simply the local management team. Our recommendation would be to designate one person from your group who would be accountable for communicating with this chain's stores.This way, communication is more efficient and you generate trust, because this one person is able to keep the overview and consistently represent your initiative towards the chain.

Structure and overview

On a more practical level, how can you organize yourself when you get big?

Due to a lack of a better running software, most foodsaving groups function through facebook. But we don't want to exclude people who aren't on there, and the features offered by that platform are not enough to organize anything else than one-to-one foodsharing, let alone store pick-ups! And before yunity arises, you'll need to come up with something else. Here are the different systems we have seen working so far:

  • GoogleDocs Spreadsheets or similar things
  • Having fewer but bigger pickups, where all foodsavers are invited to join (wholesale markets, big supermarket - e.g. Copenhagen)

People came up with these ideas by themselves! Let your imagination do the work and get creative, it always works out in the end(wink)

A lot of people use facebook groups, which is not ideal at all to organize the saving, but can be useful for the sharing part, since it is easy to reach a lot of people as soon as the group is slightly known by local people. To keep the overview of the saving, tables have been proven useful. If you want to, you can have a look at this Ethercalc template sheet to get an idea of what info should be included there. It's important to use something in the cloud for people to collaboratively work on. Because then there is no need for a leader who puts people on the list and foodsavers rather write their own names in the cells of the pick-ups they're interested in. This, of course, only works with reliable and reasonable foodsavers, who take the foodsaving seriously, so make sure you communicate things like expectations and etiquette accordingly! Please refer to the checklist 'Professionalism for foodsavers', which you can find in the cooperation mini manual as well, if you are interested in behavioural standards, that have been proven to be useful in Germany.

Raising Awareness

Most importantly: Never use the "free of cost" incentive!
Foodsaving isn't about promoting access to free food, it's about fighting a waste-system that we disagree with.
Make a clear statement and don't let people assume that you are bunch of cheap garbage-hungry humans.
What you are doing is amazing and you know it!

The fact that your community exists already gets a lot of attention and raises awareness. Don't be shy! Get people to talk about it, share food, love and awareness!

There are many possibilities to get people's interest up: Events like disco soups or temporary Food-Share Points, where saved food gets distributed to the people, always get a lot of attention. And on top of that they're fun and a great opportunity to enlarge your community with more like-minded people!

You could also run an awareness rising campaign among politicians, asking for a modification of the law and making this matter public.
For instance, over the course of 2015 and 2016 has actively participated in the Leere Tonne ("Empty bins") campaign, using a petition to ask the German government to adopt a similar law as the one voted for in the French Parliament in spring 2016, which forces supermarkets to give away their food waste.
Keep in mind that, as far as political parties are concerned, foodsharing stays as neutral as possible.

Legal situation

  • First of all, you will need to thoroughly check the legal situation in your country, regarding consumption of products that have passed their Best Before Date. is legally allowed to exist thanks to a simple liability contract signed by every new Foodsaver, which acts as a waiver and clearly states that the food donor is excluded from liability of negligence. Here you can find the German one used by and here the English one from the Edinburgh initiative.
  • The legal situation for Food-Share Points is slightly different but also based on foodsharing being seen as individuals sharing food without the continuity and big administartive efforts organizations provide. The Swedish initiative LivsmeDela from Uppsala has come up with a nicely written sheet on the legal situation for Food-Share Points based on European law, which you can find here.
  • It may be useful to register your community as a legal entity, which we recommend for liability reasons. Example: as a private person without a legal entity, you would take full responsibility if sued in court for food poisoning. The situations vary a lot from country to country and, frankly, we find it hard enough to research the legal situation in our own country, so hold on tight, check it out yourself and tell us what you found out!
  • Staying away from money saves you a lot of trouble: You get food for free, so don't screw the nicely cooperating business by selling it!

If your country is following that awesome trend of forbidding supermarkets to throw away food (that we hope will expand to the whole EU... and further?), don't just assume that foodsharing isn't needed anymore. The amount of waste that comes from bakeries, cafés, grocery stores, brunch restaurants and so on is big enough to keep a big community of volunteers working quite actively! Maybe in those countries where food waste is banned (France as to February 2016, Italy considering it around the same time, certain southern Belgian municipalities having implemented it years ago), it could actually be the best time to get the supermarkets to cooperate with foodsaving as they must legally get rid of the food, and the existing organizations probably don't have the infrastructure and the needs to process all these donations just yet.

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