Farmlink Founders: James Kanoff
& Aidan Reilly
“Farmlink Isn’t about Us”: Co-Founders James Kanoff and Aidan Reilly on The Farmlink Project, One Year Later
By Lizzy Marcinkowski
April 15, 2021
It’s no secret that the entitled, lazy, young American has become a common trope of the twenty-first century. Millennials and Generation Z-ers oftentimes find themselves characterized as hypocritical and self-obsessed, a uniform mass of twentysomethings who tweet about social justice issues while indulging in expensive coffees and avoiding real work.
James Kanoff and Aidan Reilly, the two college students who brought together the founding team of The Farmlink Project, inspired over 200 volunteer team members to join their cause, and moved millions of pounds of food to communities in need, stand out as unique contradictions to this stereotype.
Both raised in Los Angeles, California, the two grew up volunteering at their local food pantry, West Side Food Bank, and became friends in middle school. After graduating high school, they reunited to work on a disaster response team in Nicaragua as photojournalists. Aidan went on to attend Brown University and James Stanford University, where they study political science and symbolic systems focused on artificial intelligence, respectively.
Aidan and James working in Nicaragua
“We went to different high schools but stayed really close friends,” said James. “We only live about ten minutes apart from each other.”
After being sent home from school in March 2020 at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Aidan and James heard from managers of West Side Food Bank that the organization was lacking the resources it needed to feed the local community; demand had increased fivefold as Los Angeles-area families struggled to make ends meet during the pandemic.
“The initial idea was to find some farms that were throwing out their dairy, milk, eggs, or produce around Los Angeles and figure out some way to get it to West Side Food Bank to help them. We had pretty much zero experience in agriculture or freight or anything like that, but we thought, screw it, we have so much time, if we can just get one truck to this food bank, it would make a big difference,” said Aidan.
The rest of the story, as any Farmlinker knows, is history. After cold-calling farmers and renting a Penske truck to complete The Farmlink Project’s very first delivery of surplus eggs, Aidan and James enlisted the help of friends, quickly realizing that they were not the only young people who wanted to take action to help their community. Max Goldman, Caroline Ricksen, Ben Collier, Will Collier, Stella Delp, and Jordan Hartzell were among the first team members crucial in getting The Farmlink Project off the ground.
“We started asking more friends to join and posting on social media, asking for donations. When we did that, it started to snowball. There were so many people our age who had nothing to do and wanted to help,” said Aidan.
Part of The Farmlink Project founding team: James, Aidan, Caroline Ricksen, Will Collier, Stella Delp, and Jordan Hartzell
Today, Aidan works as the organization’s Creative Director, juggling his responsibilities at The Farmlink Project with being a full-time student at Brown, while James is serving as Farmlink’s CEO on his gap year from Stanford.
Though their day to day never looks quite the same, Aidan and James both see their primary role as supporting The Farmlink Project team members in pursuing their ideas that help the organization to grow, facilitating an environment where initiatives can get resources quickly.
“My biggest job is helping others succeed and empowering them to do work,” says James. “I spend a lot of my time trying to make sure that people’s work feels valued when we have 200-plus people working remotely.”
For the co-founders, capitalizing on the youth-driven energy of their first year and maintaining the grassroots scrappiness of The Farmlink Project as it grows will always be a priority.
“A lot of other companies will lose that and become bureaucratic or corporate. That’s not an option for us because it’s such an integral part of who we are,” said Aidan. “As young people, we have really good radars for genuineness—who is just trying to sell a product and say they’re helping the world and who is trying to actually help or educate.”
As of April 2021, The Farmlink Project has delivered over 30 million pounds of farm fresh produce to food banks, an organization milestone coming off the heels of Aidan and James winning a 2021 Citizen Service Act Congressional Medal of Honor in March for their work in creating The Farmlink Project. But they don’t see their impact as only numerical value or their ability to get fresh produce to families in need. They want other young people to look to The Farmlink Project as an example that you don’t need to be an expert in a field or have a million dollars to start a movement and get others to care about a problem that matters to you.
“No matter what we do on our operational side, whether we move 30 million pounds of food or 100 million pounds of food, our biggest impact is likely going to be the way we influence other people,” said Aidan. “What we want to impart on people is a sense of self-startership and a real emphasis on caring about systems that should change.”
“What I hope is that people from Farmlink go on to be leaders in the social impact space, to start their own initiatives, to start their own companies to pioneer policy change, to do things that are all focused on helping people and our planet,” said James.
Aidan will graduate from Brown this May, while James will be returning to Stanford to finish his degree. But no matter what The Farmlink Project continues to accomplish, Aidan and James will always see their biggest accomplishment as providing a collaborative and supportive space for Farmlink Project team members to work towards something they are passionate about.
“We may have started it, but the team has really made this thing what it is, which is beyond our wildest dreams of what we set out to do with this project,” said James. “Farmlink isn’t about us. It’s about all these people that have come together to accomplish this. And that’s what I’m most proud of.”