Startup Utilizes Social Media to Fight Food Waste, Feed the Hungry and Increase Revenue for Farmers
November 5, 2013 | Trish Popovitch
It all started with a Facebook post.
Nick Papadopoulos was working as acting general manager of Bloomfield Farms, his wife’s parents’ 45-acre organic vegetable farm located in Northern California. One day, he found himself alone in the cooler after a farmer’s market, sipping on a beer and observing all of the unsold food that would soon become part of the farm’s chicken feed and compost bins.
Suddenly, he had an idea. Instead of giving premium organic produce to the chickens, why not give it to hungry people? So, he went online to Facebook and started typing. The original Facebook post offering leftover produce that started the cropsourcing website known as CropMobster can still be seen on the site today.
CropMobster is less than a year old. But what a year it has been.
“The interest has been fantastic and it’s really inspired us to create a movement around this negative situation and translate it into something positive,” says Papadopoulos. “We’re inspiring people to get involved.”
After the first call to action, it was time to organize. Papadopoulos called his friend Gary Cedar, a web designer and social media guru, to create the CropMobster website. Using their established network, the pair invited other farmers to join them and a great idea turned into a multi-county project where anyone could post farm-related items or excess produce for sale or donation.
Suddenly farms were covering expenses on the food brought home from farmer’s markets, families were sharing excess canning tomatoes with their communities, children were using leftover starter plants in the classroom and food that once ended up in the feed bins of the One Percent (the name of Bloomfield Farm’s chicken flock) was now feeding hungry Californians of the non-feathered variety.
“Here’s an issue, that if we can tackle it as a community, we can not only transform the situation of loss and efficiency, but we can create value,” says Papadopoulos. “We can get people better access, we can reduce food loss, and we can educate people about the issues and make sure less food ends up in the dump.”
Here’s how it works: CropMobster receives messages from area farmers, producers and retailers with surplus stock. The information is posted on the CropMobster website and goes out through the social network as an alert, showing up in RSS feeds, Facebook posts and mobile alerts. People start talking. A monetary deal is made, or a food donation is accepted and pick-up is arranged between the interested parties. A skeleton crew that still has their day jobs currently runs the site.
“For a farmer, it typically takes a lot of time to try and find a home for surplus,” says Papadopolous. “Plus, time equals money. We are able to give folks a quick and fun way to share an offering to the community. We include stories and information about each small local producer.”
In addition to a creating a marketplace for selling, trading and donating items, CropMobster provides free advertising for small farmers – a twofold benefit. By creating search engine-optimized posts for the website with well-placed keywords and the name of the producer in the opening sentence, participants are able to find what they are looking for while the online presence of every producer involved is enhanced.
“We’re organizing and raising capital to be able to create a social venture here,” says Papadopoulos. “Our mission is to create a platform that can help wire together communities, provide better linkages in the communication system between folks that are farming and the hunger relief world.”
The CropMobster site includes corporate partner information, donation and deal archives, want ads, and “glean team” offerings. Glean teams are groups of volunteers that go to small California farms and collect leftover field crops. Through gleaning, hundreds of pounds of produce finds its way to soup kitchens and relief projects around the community, while the volunteers enjoy farm-to-table meals for their hard work. In this way Cropmobster offers a new source of food for those dealing with poverty and food deserts while helping farmers clean their fields and prepare for the next season.
Recovering production costs is the main goal of farmers who post on CropMobster. Some farmers provide a monetary donation to CropMobster for the upkeep of the website. Donations remain voluntary, but Papadopolous says future plans could include asking for a small commission for produce sold through the site. The site currently operates as a social venture separate from Bloomfield Farms so donations, which can be made via a “Tip Jar” on the website, are not tax-deductible. CropMobster is seeking corporate investment and grant funding to spread their idea.
As of this publication, CropMobster has over 100 participating farms, not to mention multiple caterers, bakers, grocery stores and restaurants in twelve California counties, totaling 4,000 individual members. Papadopolous is meeting with a group that could replicate the model in 36 California counties.
“When you’ve got a 40 percent loss of the food in our country, that’s just the most inefficient system I’ve ever seen,” says Papadopoulos. “We need to tap into the power of social media. We’re trying to take it beyond a commodity transaction. I think everyone, unless they’re absolutely nuts, would agree that food shouldn’t go to waste.”