The global pandemic left us yearning for connection to our neighbors and communities. While facing isolation, many people turned to gardening to relieve stress and put energy into cultivating something positive. Meanwhile, many families found themselves experiencing food insecurity for the first time. According to Feeding America, after COVID-19 food banks began providing food to 55% more people. For these families facing food insecurity, access to fresh food is not always easy.
“Food pantries have more demand than supply for fresh food,” says Kayla Birdsong, chief executive officer at Fresh Food Connect, a Denver-based nonprofit. At the same time, backyard gardeners often have more produce than they know what to do with. Fresh Food Connect brings
these two pieces together in a collaborative, harmonious relationship that is truly nurturing for local communities.
Through their simple technology, Fresh Food Connect is introducing more homegrown, nutrient-dense produce into our food system. Backyard gardeners can download the Fresh Food Connect app and get connected to a local nonprofit food bank in their neighborhood. The app allows gardeners to choose to drop off their donations or arrange for a pickup. The produce then arrives at the local nonprofit who can distribute it to people in need.
There is something so powerful about hyper-local food that has not traveled across states or countries to make it to your table. When food is grown in a backyard garden — far from industrial livestock production and harmful chemicals — and transported within the same zip code, the risk for contamination is extremely low.
“People are putting a lot of love into this head of lettuce,” continues Birdsong, “[gardeners] are donating the food they are really proud of […] not just the leftovers from their gardens.” Through the food they share, gardeners gain a sense of connection to their community. Their gardens take on a new sense of purpose, and some gardeners eventually volunteer or financially contribute to their local food pantry creating a ripple effect from the simple gesture of providing nourishment to their neighbors.
To break the cycles of inequity in our food system, all people need access to nutrient-rich produce. Fresh Food Connect envisions a world where all gardeners plant an extra row of lettuce or one more tomato plant to help feed families that live just a few streets over — a world where communities come together to create a sustainable food system.
What began in one zip code in Denver, the Fresh Food Connect movement is now operating in over 1,300 zip codes across 20 states. The organization has grown rapidly in just five short years, and Fresh Food Connect remains focused on getting the word out to even more communities. In order to give families access to the nutritious food they deserve, it will take “[…] all of us doing a little bit, like donating back to our food system,” says Birdsong.
Learn more about how you can become a gardener for your local food bank at freshfoodconnect.org.
Originally published in the Winter + Spring 2021-22 issue.