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Building a Market from Backyard Bounty with Fresh Food Connect

Fresh Food Connect envisions a more healthy, sustainable, and local food system, through creating a market for homegrown food.

Photo of Helen Katich
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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Fresh Food Connect

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Fresh Food Connect was founded by three community-based nonprofit organizations in Denver, Colorado, including Groundwork Denver, Denver Urban Gardens, and Denver Food Rescue. Fresh Food Connect currently partners with eight nonprofit organizations throughout Colorado who focus on food access and food rescue. These eight "operators" all utilize the Fresh Food Connect technology to connect with backyard gardeners in their local communities. Through our strong partnerships, we are building a participatory food system, integrating home-grown food into the marketplace.

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.freshfoodconnect.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Denver, Colorado

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

United States of America

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

Denver, Colorado (401 km^2)

What country is your selected Place located in?

United States of America

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

FFC was founded by three Denver-based nonprofit organizations, committed to creating a highly participatory food system through a lens of healthy equity.  Denver Urban Gardens, Denver Food Rescue, and Groundwork Denver came together to utilize their strengths and assets in the Denver community, both through ties to the land and people. 

Denver Urban Gardens has over 180 gardens in six counties in the Metro Denver Area, focusing on growing food, but more than that, growing community. DUG provides resources, training, and support needed to establish enduring gardens and farms that become valuable assets to neighborhoods. 

Denver Food Rescue operates thirteen no-cost grocery programs in communities with high rates of food insecurity.  Each no-cost grocery program is co-created and lead by the community members, generating inclusive and community-directed programming.  

Groundwork Denver works to promote the physical environment and individual well-being.  Through a wide variety of activities, from planting trees to growing food, Groundwork engages low-income community members to take action and become leaders to create positive change.  Running a large youth-employee program, Groundwork focuses on Denver's youth population. 

Fresh Food Connect thus bridges these forces and deep roots in the Denver community together with a vision to create a hyper local and participatory food system.  Though strategic marketing in Denver, Colorado, we aim to support gardeners to plant and grow food to support themselves and the community at large through partnership with local hunger relief centers and community lead no-cost grocery programs.  We envision a system that supports more access to healthful food to every community member. 

Moving into the future, we imagine Fresh Food Connect not only functioning as a technology bridging gardeners with hunger relief centers, but gardeners with fellow gardeners, creating a "virtual food hub."


Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

Denver, Colorado is one of the fastest growing cities in the United States.  Listed as one of the top cities for entrepreneurs and businesses (https://www.business.org/business/startup/top-cities-for-entrepreneurs-and-startups/), Denver is experiencing a boom of new ideas and inhabitants.  Though this wave has provided many benefits, it has also caused for a more stratified income level and higher cost of living, thus increasing stress on accessing basic needs including housing and food for our low-income community members.  

There are cranes in almost every direction you look in our Mile High City, but on the ground, you can also find your local community garden.  Organizations including Re:Vision, The GrowHaus, Denver Urban Gardens and others have all worked diligently to increase education and resources necessary to grow a garden.  With over 180 community gardens in our city and many more home gardeners, there is a local food movement that is growing.  

Gentrification has continued to push lower income community members to the outskirts of the city, but most of our food resource hubs remain within a centralized downtown.  Fresh Food Connect is working to bridge those participating in their local community gardens or growing their individual plot in their backyard into a movement to increase health equity through the accessibility of fresh, local fruits and vegetables throughout Denver.  We partner with organizations that conduct no-cost grocery programs both in central Denver and in neighborhoods considered food deserts, where there is neither a grocery store nor a food pantry where fresh foods are readily available. 

We envision our great city as a hub for local food production and strategic distribution to share the bounty across our community.  Over time, we envision Fresh Food Connect as an integrated part of our local food system, connecting local growers to not only hunger relief centers, but also with one another.  Through this "virtual food hub," local growers will have the ability to buy, sell, and trade, which in turn will reduce food miles, food waste, and insufficient access to healthful food items.  

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

2932000

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

Current 2020 Challenges:

Fresh Food Connect has operated using a very basic web app as the technology to bridge gardeners to hunger relief organizations. With recent financial support, we have had the opportunity to update our technology into a mobile application that allows for more user interface and more tools for evaluation.  We have also built in the ability to launch a "virtual farmers market," a platform that will allow local producers to buy, sell, and trade food items.  This updated technology is objectively superior in its capacity and built by request and participation of our nonprofit partners, however, our current challenge in transitioning to this mobile application.  Today, our gardener population includes about 10% of our individuals with a preference to continue using the web app due to a lack of confidence in using their mobile devices (over 350 active gardeners participating in Fresh Food Connect in Denver).  We are taking this as a current challenge and are developing opportunities to continue engagement through personalized outreach, and estimate that our technology is about five years ahead of our full user base. 

Fresh Food Connect is also challenged as a nonprofit that has been largely dependent on generous donations from local community foundations and individuals, which is inherently a challenge and does not guarantee our fiscal sustainability as an organization. 

Additionally, the physical environment causes some challenges in Denver.  Colorado is known for our days of sunshine and also our incredibly variable weather.  Our growing season is far from fixed, with days jumping from 70 degrees to snowing within 24 hours. This reality poses a great challenge to our farmers and gardeners in the state.  It is often when gardeners plant  snow falls the next day, which can provide a feeling of defeat.  However, we have seen the number of gardeners grow along with community plots available and education provided. Our gardeners, along with the plants they grow, are resilient and are growing in density. 

2050 Challenges

Looking forward, Denver and cities across the United States must grapple with how to provide living wages to enable every individual and family to have the ability to access basic needs that provide to a healthy life.  Our current minimum wage is $12.00, whereas the livable wage in Denver for a single individual and one child is over $25 (https://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/08031) . In order for the city to have a population that is able to access basic needs and thrive, we need to address this discrepancy.  Until that time, a food system wherein everyone can participate in a healthy market is obvious limited and inequitable. 


Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Through strategic outreach and marketing, we are providing our current and future operators of Fresh Food Connect with rich training and marketing materials about the mobile application to distribute in their local community.  Though we will inevitably lose some of our current gardeners and participants in the transition of technology, we are confident that in the seasons to come we will increase density of our users--gardeners and nonprofit operators alike. 

Fresh Food Connect currently facilitates the donation of food from gardens that would other go to waste, but the future of FFC will encourage more backyard agriculture by creating a “virtual food hub,” in which growers can sell their food through FFC, or barter with other growers. This system will greatly improve the local food economy, as currently the quantities of food grown by urban farmers and gardeners are too small to reach an economy of scale. As a result, this food does not currently have a substantial marketplace, despite its quality and aggregate quantity.  Fresh Food Connect will provide a solution by providing a market for small-batch, hyper-local foods.  In turn, as food is sold, we have planned on including a small fee for use of the technology.  A portion of this fee will work to support Fresh Food Connect, and the other towards the local hunger relief center working to support our community members who do not have access due to low wages, health issues, and other systemic inequities. Thus, we are working to utilize this marketplace to not only support its participants through the access of locally grown food, but also sustain the organizations that conduct the front-line work in our community.

Though Fresh Food Connect does not work directly in advocacy and policy, we do envision our work in the years to come participating in economic generation through the purchases and sales of local foods.  This last year, one of our participating operators in Denver provided a young woman in high school with the education and resources to grow a garden.  With the starts she grew, she sold them at her high school's spring fair, earning more than $300 in the day.  This is one example of many that shows that creating a marketplace for locally grown food can serve as a financial support to individuals and families while increasing health equity. 



High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Technology has turned car owners into cab drivers and homeowners into hospitality managers. Fresh Food Connect was started to turn backyard gardeners into farmers. It addresses the "zucchini problem," by creating a market and distribution channel for homegrown food that may otherwise be left to waste. 

Fresh Food Connect encourages backyard gardens to participate in creating a healthy food system by creating a marketplace for homegrown food.  This vision transforms urban communities that largely do not have any connection with the land nor the farmers growing and cultivating their food into active participants in the food system. 

The organization will listen, learn, and iterate the technology as we grow.   The technology has a great potential to integrate into the way people interact with their gardens, with their neighbors, and with a system that currently is not serving many of our community members.  We know that this must change, and Fresh Food Connect provides a vision of diversifying where and how we buy and sell our food.  It creates a city of farmers, who will in turn become more empowered and educated to create a healthful and equitable food system. 




Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Fresh Food Connect aims  to create a more healthy, sustainable, and local food system, by creating a market for homegrown food.  

An increasing amount of food is grown in backyards, patios, and community gardens in urban environments across the world, yet there is virtually no market for this food aside from abandoning an overgrown gourd on your neighbor’s front step. Fresh Food Connect seeks to give this food the market it deserves, in turn making our food systems more local, less wasteful, and more healthy. 

The future of Fresh Food Connect will encourage more backyard agriculture and local distribution channels by growing in our users, first in Colorado, and in the future throughout the country.  To date, Fresh Food Connect has engaged more than 350 gardeners and redistributed more than 27,000 pounds of otherwise wasted homegrown produce, worth more than $60,000.

Fresh Food Connect envisions a nationwide community of hyperlocal, sustainable food ecosystems. These local networks will be maintained by a network of thousands of home growers. If just a fraction of the total gardeners in a city like Denver donated their excess garden produce at the same rate we have seen so far, Fresh Food Connect could add millions of pounds, worth billions of dollars, into local food systems around the world. Fresh Food Connect seeks to scale to be a disruptive force in the food system by introducing a new, healthier and more sustainable food resource, focusing on high need areas and populations.

The Board of Directors and staff of Fresh Food Connect is comprised of entrepreneurs and experts in increasing local community food production, food distribution, and small enterprise development.  Our board is comprised of the Founder and Executive Director of Denver Urban Gardens, the Executive Director of Groundwork Denver, the Founder of Denver Food Rescue, Bondadosa Groceries, Twice Rounds, and the Upcycled Food Association.  Our current CEO for Fresh Food Connect directed a nation-wide organization that functioned to assist the development and growth of organizations around the United States that work on food waste reduction and healthy food access.  She is also one of the Co-Founders of Boulder Food Rescue and Seattle Food Rescue.  This team is uniquely positioned to scale the work of Fresh Food Connect with its connections to organizations and individuals that work on food waste reduction,  local food production and equitable food distribution.  The team and its operators are community rooted, with dedication to utilize feedback and iterate, iterate, iterate to make this vision of a participatory and hyper local food system a reality.

Fresh Food Connect is easy to implement on a small budget, and the umbrella organization is refining its support network and capacity to later incubate hundreds of licenses nationally.   However, as we pilot our most up to date technology, we will focus in on our local community and food system in Denver, Colorado. 

Outreach to additional nonprofit partners in Denver as well as local gardeners is already well underway, and these groups have expressed excitement about participating in Fresh Food Connect because of a desire to access and donate more local, healthy foods to hunger relief centers.  

Fresh Food Connect brings additional benefits to the local organization by building new relationships with local community members that may not otherwise be connected to their work.  Beginning as a food donation, these relationships can be utilized to further cultivate financial supporters of our local partner organizations.   

Fresh Food Connect believes in a food system that empowers everyone to participate and reap the benefits of the fruits of labor.  It encourages our community to grow, cultivate, and share.  It creates a marketplace, which in turn benefits our local food economies.  This vision is full of inspiration, bringing together community members and organizations with decades of experience in the field.  Fresh Food Connect believes in this work, and is passionate about the work ahead to create a model and platform to encourage cities around the United States to participate in a strong and diversified food system. 


How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Email
  • Website
  • Referral from partner organization, Boulder Food Rescue

7 comments

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Spam
Photo of Gabriela Vargas Romero
Team

Hola Helen,
I like you work very much and I think it has a lot of potential, we could really like to would love to know more and explore possibilities of having something similar in Mexico City

Spam
Photo of Helen Katich
Team

Hola! I would love to connect with you, Gabriela! Estoy en Oaxaca ahora, y me gustaria hablar sobre tu trabajo tambien!

Spam
Photo of Gabriela Vargas Romero
Team

Hola Helen,
Que rico que estás en Oaxaca! Tienes planes de pasar por la ciudad? Feliz de platicar contigo

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