Grew too much zucchini? Well, now there’s an app for that.
Fresh Food Connect began as a pilot project in 2016 when three Denver organizations—Denver Urban Gardens (DUG), Denver Food Rescue and Groundwork Denver—pinpointed two seemingly unrelated issues: Food pantries were struggling to find enough nutritionally dense produce, and backyard and community gardens were generating a lot of food waste.
By asking how to connect the two, Fresh Food Connect was born. In 2018, the nonprofit was still in its infancy. Volunteers from Groundwork would pick up excess produce (often on bikes) and deliver their daily haul to Denver Food Rescue. It was a slightly cumbersome process, and the team knew they were still leaving behind a lot of surplus, yet much-needed, produce.
In 2020, a mobile tool was introduced that streamlined the process. “By linking more home gardeners with hunger relief organizations, we’ve really been able to tackle the issue of food insecurity,” says Kayla Birdsong, CEO of Fresh Food Connect.
To participate, home and community gardeners simply download the free Fresh Food Connect app. When they have extra produce to donate, they log in and indicate what they have. They will be matched with a frontline hunger-relief organization in their area, which will be alerted that produce is available and then arrange to pick it up or have it dropped off at a donation location, all within the gardener’s zip code.
This technology has made the donation process more accessible; with a few clicks, home and community gardeners can find an outlet for their excess produce in a way that supports their own neighbors.
On the other side of the equation, the hunger relief organizations—or as Fresh Food Connect refers to them, their “operating partners”—pay an annual licensing fee for use of the technology, calculated on a sliding scale so those with the lowest budgets pay the least to participate.
Today, Fresh Food Connect operates in 20 states, partners with more than 50 hunger-relief organizations across the country and boasts more than 1,500 gardener participants, with a goal of having 5,000 gardeners by the end of the 2021 growing season. “We’ve started a mission to build the largest network of gardeners in the U.S.,” says Birdsong.
While Fresh Food Connect now operates across the country and is scaling quickly, their largest impact continues to be here in Colorado. Organizations like Broomfield-based Community Food Share were already accepting garden donations, but thanks to their recent partnership with Fresh Food Connect they’re able to receive more donations more easily.
Additional Colorado operating partners cover nearly 300 zip codes including Ft. Collins, Boulder, Denver, Longmont, Colorado Springs, Pueblo, Grand Junction, Gunnison, Leadville and Edwards. So, there’s a good chance your own neighborhood is already covered; if not, Fresh Food Connect is always looking for new hunger-relief organizations to join their network.
To date, Fresh Food Connect has facilitated donations of more than 20,000 pounds of produce from gardens to local communities.
“Working with backyard gardeners may seem like small potatoes (no pun intended),” Birdsong says. “The output of food may not be large enough for bigger corporations to bother with. But when we aggregate the output from all these small gardens, it starts to add up.”
In a 2020 poll of Fresh Food Connects’ participating gardeners, 90% of those who used the app said that they had never donated product to a hunger-relief effort before. This technology made it simple and efficient to donate.
While sharing food is nothing new—neighbors often swap excess tomatoes and cucumbers, and “gleaning groups” have been picking leftovers from farms or public spaces for years—what sets Fresh Food Connect apart is that their technology helps make their model scalable. And through this technology the connections being made not only utilize surplus produce, they help create healthier, more equitable food systems.
You can participate in creating this movement by getting the free Fresh Food Connect app and donating some of your backyard bounty. Every little bit counts!