DENVER — Four youth staffers from Denver Food Rescue rode electric bikes to community gardens in Denver last Monday, picking up fresh-grown garden bounties from front porches and doorsteps.
Through an app called Fresh Food Connect, gardeners can sign up and schedule volunteers to pick up their extra veggies, which are then distributed to neighborhood hunger relief organizations who help feed their communities.
“We have this beautiful network set up, ready to distribute food. Now what we need is for gardeners to sign up,” said Kayla Birdsong of Fresh Food Connect — a project that began in Denver in 2016 but has now grown to include communities in 19 more states across the country.
“We really wouldn’t be able to function this program without each puzzle piece,” said Allie Runne, who volunteers with Denver Food Rescue and is a Greenhouse Manager with Groundwork Denver.
Fresh Food Connect
Fresh Food Connect is a Denver nonprofit connecting gardeners to food-insecure communities
“Their connection is to the soil and ours is to the people, and making sure that both of those things go hand in hand,” said Christine Alford, the executive director of Denver Food Rescue.
Denver Food Rescue operates 24 no-cost grocery programs across the city that are run by the residents of those communities. Donations from Fresh Food Connect’s network of gardeners help to stock those shelves with vegetables and fruits grown right in the same neighborhood.
“What we’re seeing is that a lot of food pantries across Denver and even across the country don’t have enough fresh produce,” Birdsong said.
What's more, the COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated many of the food insecurity issues in America. This time last year, in the middle of the pandemic, nearly 20 percent of U.S. children reported food insufficiency. According to NPR, "The organization Feeding America says it has seen a 60% average increase in demand during the pandemic. And about 40 percent of the people showing up these days have never needed help before."
So far, Birdsong says 1,400 gardeners across the country have signed up for the Fresh Food Connect app. The app’s operators hope to increase that number to 5,000 by the end of this year’s growing season, issuing a challenge to backyard gardeners to participate.
“We’re aiming to create the largest network of gardeners in the United States,” Birdsong said. “Grow an extra row, grow an extra few plants, and start really being intentional in what you can give back to your own neighbors.”
“Growing with intent is knowing that you have enough space for yourself and also some extra space for somebody else,” Alford said. “Moving toward more of a relationship-based garden is what we’re hoping to do, in building that true authentic connection with community.”
Jason Foster is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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