• Haines Eason

Local produce-sharing program Fresh Food Connect expands into 80203

Updated: Mar 15, 2019


Note: Originally published in the September 2017 issue of Life on Capitol Hill.

It has been a big year for Fresh Food Connect, Denver’s first community-garden-produce-sharing program specifically targeting locals living in food-insecure neighborhoods.

“We started in 80205 last year, and by the end of the season we opened up 80207, 80220 and 80210—Park Hill, Montclair and University neighborhoods,” says Groundwork Denver Executive Director Wendy Hawthorne. “We opened them up because there were a good number of people who had signed up who were not in an open zip code.”


Fresh Food Connect Program Coordinator Emily Olsen on the program's electric-assist bike. The program has expanded into 80203 thanks to a large commitment from the West Washington Park Community Garden. Photo by Haines Eason.






Hawthorne says the program's web app allows interested gardeners to sign up even if they do not reside in a service area as a way of gauging interest.

The program is simple: gardeners with surplus vegetables to share sign up at freshfoodconnect.org. Once signed up, growers put produce they wish to share on their porch on a designated pickup day, and Fresh Food Connect’s bike team, pedaling 500-pound-capacity, specially modified produce pickup bikes, comes by for the offering. The ingenious program is in fact a three-way partnership between Groundwork Denver, Denver Urban Gardens and Denver Food Rescue, and it supplies a pay-what-you-may farmstand and local food pantries with fresh produce.

Emily Olsen, program coordinator for Fresh Food Connect, says there are presently between 60 and 70 gardeners signed up in the zip codes in which the program operates. The program is actively seeking more gardeners, she adds, and it doesn’t take many participants to produce a big pile of produce.

“In the last two weeks, our pickups each week have been bigger than our biggest pickups we ever had last year,” she says. “With all the rain we’ve had, gardens are really starting to get going. The last two weeks, we have distributed 150 or so pounds of produce through our pay-what-you-may farmstand,” Olsen says. “The rest was donated to various food pantries.”

Most of the pickups supply Fresh Food Connect’s pay-what-you-may farmstand located in 80205’s Skyline neighborhood. Fresh Food Connect staff targeted that neighborhood because, Olsen says, that neighborhood’s only grocery store closed recently after 65 years.

"We have made quite an effort to find an outlet, and we've been working with Denver Urban Gardens for a few years... [Fresh Food Connect] seems like a very wonderful program, very cool, and we hope to give hundreds and hundreds of pounds to the food needy in the Denver area. And they pick up, which is wonderful."

Hawthorne stresses funds generated by the sales from the stand do not result in a profit for Fresh Food Connect but rather are used to pay low-income youth to do the pick-ups and run the farmstand.

Though it doesn’t take many participants to produce quite a bounty, Olsen and Hawthorne hope to grow the program to 300 or more gardener participants, and the current expansion into 80203 is being fueled by one large donating garden, in particular, the West Washington Park Community Garden at 201 Grant St.

“The West Wash Park Community Garden reached out to us because they have a very large donation program where last year they donated over 3,000 pounds of produce grown by their gardeners,” Olsen says. “The food pantry they were bringing this produce to is closing down at the end of August, so they were looking for a new way to donate the food they grow.”

For Francine Haber and other gardeners at the West Washington Park Community Garden, Fresh Food Connect just makes sense. "We put in volunteer hours to give back to the community; that's how we interpret the idea of community gardens," she says. "We found Denver Food Rescue quite by chance, ran into the bikes and what I thought were ice cream carts in the parking lot of Sprouts. Last year we gave 3,500 pounds of fresh produce, and we're up to 900 pounds this year."

Haber says last year's and recent donations and the closure of the local food bank make the garden's new connection with Fresh Food Connect very timely.

"We have made quite an effort to find an outlet, and we've been working with Denver Urban Gardens for a few years... [Fresh Food Connect] seems like a very wonderful program, very cool, and we hope to give hundreds and hundreds of pounds to the food needy in the Denver area. And they pick up, which is wonderful."

As for what else is fueling the program’s expansion, Hawthorne says they recently added an electric-assist bike to their fleet, making longer-range trips easier for the produce pickup team. And, the program’s web app is drawing attention from other cities’ garden-food-sharing programs.


Francine Haber looks on as Emily Olsen weighs produce donated by the gardeners of West Washington Park Community Gardens. Photo by Haines Eason.









“One of the things we’ve been working on is the technology side, making it so we can license people to manage Fresh Food Connect in different regions through [the app],” Hawthorne says. “We already have Colorado Springs using it; they started using it last year as our first region outside Denver. As soon as licensing is ready, we’ll have at least five communities that want to use it. One in Florida, one in Connecticut, Milwaukee and a few local: Boulder, Longmont…”

There’s still plenty of time left in the growing season, and if you’re overwhelmed by your garden’s bounty and interested in this program, considering signing up at freshfoodconnect.org.

#Slowliving #Hunger #Biking #Community

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