Challenge Accepted: The Our Food Journey™ Small Change, Big Impact Challenge

Hormel Foods commits $16,000 to fund projects proposed at summit to improve our food system
Nov 12, 2019 10:00 AM ET

During finalist presentations at the Our Food Journey™ Small Change, Big Impact Challenge, the audience was rapt as speakers from student-run groups, nonprofits, start-ups and small businesses offered stellar ideas on topics ranging from promoting bug protein to feeding kids in need.

Hormel Foods initially funded the Impact Challenge with $10,000 in grants to fund ideas that, no matter how big or small, could have a positive impact on our food system. The ideas addressed sustainability, transparency, food insecurity, food deserts, nutrition and reducing food waste. Hearing the pitches, the audience gained new perspective, a heavy dose of reality and an equally healthy dose of hope.

Several finalists happily greeted friends from the community, including summit panelists, attendees and fellow applicants. Yet new friendships were also formed, which increases the potential for future professional collaborations.

Audience members dried their eyes after Conscious Alliance presented disconcerting facts about hunger at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. A presentation by the Cambridge Public Schools Food & Nutrition Services Department moved members of the Hormel Foods team to fund the department’s $6,000 request for a food vacuum sealer that will allow schools to include freshly prepared food in a new weekend backpack program. This grant was above and beyond the initial $10,000 commitment.

Things were more lighthearted during a back-and-forth between judge Jeff Sinelli, the founder and chief vibe officer of Which Wich Superior Sandwiches, and presenter Melissa Martinelli of Superfrau, who was an immigration lawyer before becoming a self-described “food waste warrior.”

Superfrau’s mission is to tackle food waste in the form of a refreshing, light beverage in cucumber-lime, peach-mango and lemon- elderflower flavors. The drink, made from upcycled surplus whey from yogurt and cheese makers, promotes gut health. After Martinelli confessed that she’s “obsessed with whey,” Sinelli said, “No whey!” She responded with a perfectly timed zinger. “Whey,” she said, as the audience laughed.

The remaining grant winners were announced after difficult deliberations.

Grant Winners

  • Power of Change: Harvard student Christi Lee received $1,000 for the 50 Cents Challenge, a campaign that enables Massachusetts students to donate to hunger-relief efforts through local food banks.
  • Tufts University’s New Entry Sustainable Farming Project: New Entry netted a $4,000 prize to use for a farmer training program for new and immigrant farmers. The project’s produce goes to 500 underserved people.
  • Conscious Alliance: Justin Levy’s organization was awarded $5,000 for its program that helps move food to where it’s needed most: into the hands of hungry kids.
  • Cambridge Public Schools Food & Nutrition Services Department: The school was awarded $6,000 for a food vacuum sealer that will allow schools to include freshly prepared food in a new weekend backpack program.

The judges announced they would provide mentoring resources for all of the finalists, an offer that was augmented by Hormel Foods executives and other industry leaders. The mentoring will include phone meetings, emails and ongoing support to help these organizations further their meaningful work. The mentorship gesture reflected the collabo- rative spirit of the inaugural conference.

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