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Davis, California

Sunday, March 3, 2024

Davis Night Market offers opportunities to reduce food insecurity, food waste

Local restaurants including ChickPeas, Village Bakery contribute to weekly Central Park gathering

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) found in 2010 that the U.S. alone wastes approximately 30-40% of its food supply, equaling almost 133 billion pounds of food. It is also estimated that 40 million people in the US are food insecure, meaning 1 in 8 Americans struggle to find access to nutritious and sustainable food. 

Yet another statistic that might hit close to home for many is Feeding America’s estimate that approximately 28,320 people are food insecure within Yolo County.

To combat these figures, a group of Davis graduate students founded the Davis Night Market, a weekly gathering in Central Park that attempts to reduce food insecurity and waste in Yolo County by collecting donations of leftover food from local restaurants. 

The market started late last Spring 2019, and since then it has welcomed hundreds of community members. Each Tuesday at 9:30 p.m., volunteers unload a variety of donated food from Davis restaurants onto the picnic tables in Central Park for the community to enjoy. In addition to free food, there is also different music and entertainment each week. The event runs until all the food is gone — until roughly 11 p.m. 

Hannah Yu, a fourth-year economics and communications double major, does project management for the night market and oversees its outreach efforts. She explained the vision for the market in a few concise words. 

“Our whole goal was to make sure that nobody goes to bed hungry,” Yu said. “We wanted to do our best to reduce food waste and feed people in need or those who are food insecure. As a whole, we generally tend to waste a lot of food and restaurants especially are always throwing away food that could easily go to people in need instead of making its way into the trash.”

When the project first began, volunteers reached out to local restaurants and asked for food donations and leftovers after hours. So far, the market has acquired seven vendors including ChickPeas, Upper Crust Baking, Dickey’s, Village Bakery, the Food Co-op, the Farmers Kitchen Cafe and the Barista Brew. 

“It’s really heartwarming to see how much the community wants to give back,” Yu said. “I’m from L.A. and I’m not used to seeing that. It’s really awesome to see how the people in Davis want to help each other out.”

Although the gathering aims to provide support to those who struggle with food insecurity, the market still encourages anyone in the community to come by for free food and good company. 

“We want the entire Davis community to feel welcomed and join us,” Yu said. “When we first started the project, our goal was to address the food insecurity problems not only among the homeless population in Davis, but also the students of UC Davis. We have had a lot of students come by and tell us how grateful they were because they don’t feel comfortable going to foodbanks and I am so grateful that they feel comfortable enough to come to the market and not feel stigmatized.” 

Yu mentioned that Upper Crust Baking was one of the first restaurants to donate to the market even before it was recognized as a community event. The Upper Crust owner and manager, Lorin Kalisky, explained why the restaurant chose to donate their baked goods to the night market. 

“We are happy to donate goods to the Davis Night Market and many other food organizations that help feed people that are food insecure,” Kalisky said. “We have a lot of bread and other baked goods that wouldn’t necessarily go to waste, but would be left over or get old, and we try to waste as little food as possible.” 

Kalisky also said that many of the same individuals associated with the market are involved in other “organizations and initiatives in town trying to alleviate food insecurity.” 

“We want to help nonprofits and charity organizations by donating or sponsoring them,” Kalisky said. “We try to be a very active participant in the Davis community and we are always happy to do what we can to support noble causes.”

Sixth-year ecology graduate student Ernst Oenhinger is one of the founding members of the Davis Night Market and has worked on many other on-campus food sustainability projects including the Freedge and the Food Recovery Network. Oenhinger detailed how the market has tried to reach all members of the community, regardless of socioeconomic background. 

“There are several components that we wanted the DNM to address: one was to reduce food waste and food insecurity, but we also wanted to incorporate a social aspect by involving the community through music and hanging out and interacting with one another,” Oenhinger said. “I think that is what kind of brings it all together.”  

In addition to alleviating food insecurity in Davis, the night market also aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Rather than using a car to transport donated goods, the organization uses bike trailers. 

“We try to at least have one trailer for each restaurant,” Oenhinger said. “The trailers usually have some cool LED lights with the Davis Night Market logo as well as a boombox to play music and keep things fun.”

Moving forward, Oenhinger hopes to see more restaurants donate to the program, with a possibility of designating an additional day of the week to hold the market on. He also expressed his hopes for the project on a larger scale.

“We definitely want to have a model that is copyable by any other community,” Oenhinger said. “This is not something that will work in every city, but we want to make it as adaptable as possible. Our goal is to make a platform that is easy to copy — we want to have everything, from how to make the signs to the proper way to ask restaurants for help on a website or google folder that can be accessed by anyone.”

Although the market has helped numerous people within the past couple of months, the initiative has not always been smooth sailing. In 1996, then-President Bill Clinton passed the Good Samaritan Food Act, which encouraged restaurants and supermarkets to donate food to nonprofit organizations while minimizing the liability of the donating party. Yet, many of the restaurants the DNM reached out to rejected the idea of donating their perishable goods.

“When [we were] asking restaurants for donations, I noticed that many of these restaurants had this mentality of fear and liability,” Oenhinger said. “People are scared of getting sued, but luckily we have been fortunate enough to have vendors that don’t adhere to this mentality.”

In addition, Oenhinger explained why the market opted to not brand itself a UC Davis student-run organization. He cited the recent issues that the Food Recovery Network (FRN), a student-run non-profit organization that brings surplus food from campus dining to members of the community, has run into with the university. There is a lack of campus initiative to help the FRN find parking spots for its electric vehicle, which has prevented it from recovering waste from two different on-campus dining commons, according to Oenhinger. 

“[There is] a kind of bureaucracy we would have to deal with if we do things on campus,” Oenhinger said. “Food Recovery Network is doing this service for free, they have a bunch of volunteers come in and do an amazing job of recovering food from the DC and donating it to Davis Community Meals and Solano park and so many other organizations and they ask for help from the DC and they are helping the DC get rid of their waste and DC doesn’t help move a finger for them.” 

Although the Davis Night Market has been successful in addressing and supporting people who struggle with food insecurity throughout Davis, there is still much more that can be done — especially on campus. Oenhinger stressed that the UC Davis administration should collaborate better with students on different food insecurity initiatives. 

“I think in the past five years that I have been at Davis there has been so many more initiatives that target food insecurity and food recovery so we are definitely going in the right direction,” Oenhinger said. “But the problem is still pretty big […] I hope that the Davis community continues to push for these initiatives that promote reducing food waste and food insecurity.”

For those interested in volunteering for the Davis Night Market, Yu and Oenhinger encourage members of the community to reach out via Facebook and Instagram. The Davis Night Market is held weekly on Tuesdays in Central Park from 9:30 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Written by: Sneha Ramachandran  — features@theaggie.org


  1. At Yolo Food Bank, we use the County’s poverty statistics in estimating food insecurity. This points to 44,000 people —nearly 20% of County residents — lacking sufficient nutrition. The Feeding America figure in the article way understates our local situation. The efforts in the article are in the right spirit, and speak to the emotion many people have around wasted restaurant food. However, it’s the tier 1 waste producers (the subject of SB 1383 pending requirements), such as grocery stores, as well as the farming community, who combine to enable the recovery of more than 300,000 pounds of food each month by Yolo Food Bank to make progress in reducing poverty and its close relative food insecurity in our County. This quantity of food currently meets less than half of the County’s full food security need. As the recent recipient of CalRecycle grant funding to help equip our new facility, we are stepping up food recovery efforts yet further and estimate we will come close to having recovered 6 million pounds of food in our current fiscal year that will end 6/30/20. None of this is said to diminish the intent and the work of Davis Night Market, but rather to illuminate the vastness of the real need, the incredibly large scale logistics involved, and the critical need for the investment of funds by donors large and small, and contributions of food donors of all kinds to have a lasting impact upon this issue that threatens the children of Yolo County more disproportionately than any other group.


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