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Inspiring Conversations with Dana Williamson of Waste Less Solutions

Today we’d like to introduce you to Dana Williamson.

Hi Dana, thanks for joining us today. We’d love for you to start by introducing yourself.
I had been working in Corporate America for 20+ years and started wondering what was next. It wasn’t fulfilling me anymore. Additionally, my daughter was 16 at the time and I was realizing the planet was not in the condition I thought it would be in when I brought her into this world. I wanted to be part of the solution to leaving her a better planet. And I wanted to do something more fulfilling. I didn’t know what that meant, I just knew I was passionate about food, education and the environment. So I started researching what was out there. I learned how bad food rotting in the landfills is on our environment and I learned there were food rescue organizations on the East and West coasts of the United States. And that is when Waste Less Solutions was born, I realized that was what I was meant to do. So in the fall of 2017, the idea of Waste Less Solutions was born. And from there I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, I had doubts and I had fears but I just kept moving forward. I contacted a nonprofit on the East coast to ask if we could utilize their food rescue software and they said yes. Then I went back to my alma mater and told them what i was up to, they introduced me to the manager of the cafeteria and they immediately saw a need, they were closing the kitchen over winter break and would have food that would not last, so I drove my vehicle there and rescued a carload of fresh produce and took it to the YWCA where they knew and trusted me, as I had worked with them in the past. They were so excited about this produce. From this I realized how big the need was for our state to have a food rescue program. And now we have rescued over 600,000 pounds and are growing strong. I am just now in a position to quit my day job and be a full time paid Executive Director of Waste Less Solutions,

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It was bumpy only because of my own self doubt that got in the way. I had times where I would say to myself, who am I to do this, how do I think I can solve this, etc. Luckily I didn’t let those doubts stop me, I just kept putting one foot in the front of the other. Additionally, I wasn’t sure of the “silver bullet” to solve this so I hesitated in some areas. At the time I internalized that and thought it meant I couldn’t do it, but now looking back I realize there is no silver bullet, this is a complicated issue and that excites me to work on a tough problem and try different things to see how best to solve it. One of the specific things that I found hard was asking for money to support our cause, I am very independent and it felt like I was asking for money for me but thanks to help from my family who kept reminding me it was for the cause, I forced myself to get out there and start asking. And I have been lucky to have some amazingly talented and smart people be attracted to this cause who I continue to lean on to grow it and to push myself.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your business?
We are dedicated to the education, prevention and diversion of food waste in Utah. When food wastes in the landfill it releases methane gas which is 25 times worse for our environment than carbon dioxide from our cars. At the same time we have 400,000 people in Utah who go hungry. It doesn’t make any sense that we throw away perfectly edible food. But how do we get that surplus food from where it is excess to where it is needed and can be eaten before it goes bad, that is the logistical problem we are trying to solve. We are the only organization in Utah doing what we do. We specialize in rescuing food from caterers, cafeterias, restaurants, food producers and distributors, farmers markets and backyard gardens.. Without us that food goes to waste when it is surplus. We use a smartphone app and volunteers to efficiently pick up that food and get it to people in need. We get particularly excited about how much fresh produce, and healthy prepared food we have access to rescue because of the types of food organizations we partner with. This is food that people who are food insecure don’t typically have access to.
This year we launched a prepared meal program where we take our healthier rescued food to a commercial kitchen and with the help of our volunteer chef and volunteers we turn it into nutritious prepared meals. This has been extremely well received for our families in need as many lack resources, equipment, knowledge and time to prepare healthy meals for their families. We are currently looking for a new kitchen to be able to bring this back full scale.

We’d love to hear about how you think about risk taking?
I have always considered myself a risk taker. I say I take calculated risks not careless risks. I have moved across the country, I went on a foreign exchange program to Costa Rica when I was 16 and I have gone skydiving, three times. At work I learn best by trying so sometimes I have to try something, get feedback and watch it work and then tweak it to get to the right solution. And in a few weeks I will be quitting my day job of 25 years to lead Waste Less Solutions full-time. I believe life happens as it should and that I have to trust my gut and take chances to grow as well as to make things better.

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