Fresh Food Connect's Harvest of Opportunity

An all-accessible, farm-to-fork initiative, Fresh Food Connect is the fruition of collaboration, a bold brainchild that feeds families, empowers youth and minimizes waste.
Before launching Fresh Food Connect in 2015, Wendy Hawthorne, president of Groundwork Denver, toyed with the idea for a while.

When Rose Community Foundation sent out a search for innovative ideas to better Denver, Hawthorne's mind started churning. "It had been a lingering thought in my head and when I saw the opportunity through Innovate for Good, I pulled in Denver Urban Gardens and they pulled in Denver Food Rescue."

The project is one that literally comes from the ground up. When local farmers have excess supply, they log what and how much they have on the Fresh Food Connect app. Youths employed by Groundwork Denver are given a route and sent via bikes with  trailers to pick up the donated supplies. The produce is then donated to youth-run farm stands, bringing healthy and fresh produce to food-insecure families.

To create the app last year, volunteers from Code for Denver made a pilot version, a sufficient initial kickoff for the project. But user-friendly improvements were necessary for the second time around, so Groundwork Denver hired Thoughtbot to build the original into a fully functioning, automated app.

Taking rootGroundwork Denver's Wendy Hawthorne, center, helped build the partnerships for Fresh Food Connect.

In its inaugural year, Fresh Food Connect operated exclusively within the borders of the 80205 zip code. Containing the project to one neighborhood allowed for efficiency. Gardeners within the boundaries were encouraged to utilize the app however often they had excess, notifying if the pickup site was a residence, community garden, or business. The program didn't make shortcuts on safety either, outlining specific measures for harvesting, storing and transportation preparation conditions; and asking for food grown without the use of non-organic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers.

This all holds true into the second season. The project will function in its original spot, this time hoping for a chance to collect data and retrieve feedback from both the donor and receiver side. A graduate student is dedicating his fall to this effort, hoping analytics will help improve Fresh Food Connect in each year to come. Farmers outside the neighborhood who are interested in donating can leave their information on the website and be notified when their area is being served.

And this may happen sooner than Hawthorne thought. On Wed. June 15, Fresh Food Connect live-pitched their project as one of three finalists for the Impact100 Metro Denver, a women's giving circle at The Denver Foundation. Impact100 brings together 100 women who make an annual donation of $1,000 -- the total sum awarded to a nonprofit organization with great potential but little access to large-scale funds. Fresh Food Connect took the top trophy, adding to their previously awarded $25,000 by Rose Community Foundation last September. "We will use these funds for marketing to get more gardener participants; to upgrade the technology; to purchase the physical infrastructure like food storage, bike and trails; and to conduct strategic planning after a full season of operations," says Hawthorne.

About 30 to 40 percent of the food supply is wasted yearly.A multi-pronged movement

Perhaps what most donors see in Fresh Food is its unique ability to tackle multiple issues without wearing itself thin. It combats the statistic that 30 to 40 percent of food supply is wasted yearly. It positively links youth to their community, pulling from a pool of teens through school recruitment and the Denver Housing Authority. And in its first full year, Fresh Food Connect expects to redistribute 40,000 pounds of vegetables to 715 families.

Hawthorne attributes it all to the partnership that eyed it into reality. "We all work in the same communities, but we have different perspectives and different strengths," says Hawthorne of the trio-team. "Denver Urban Gardens brought the expertise around the abundance of food that backyard and community gardeners have to share, Denver Food Rescue brought the expertise around collecting and redistributing food and the perspective on food waste, and Groundwork Denver brought the expertise and perspective around youth unemployment."

This story was underwritten by Rose Community Foundation.

Read more articles by Danielle Ennis.

Danielle Ennis, an East Coast transplant, enjoys writing about sports and great cheeseburgers. She teaches kids' ski lessons and is pursuing a license in classroom teaching. 
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