CropMobster has saved tons of food from being wasted by connecting excess farm produce with people who want it.
After seeing one too many harvests result in mounds of leftover produce, Bay Area farmer Nick Papadopolous decided there had to be a better way. He, along with friends Gary and Joanna Cedar, found it in CropMobster. Using a savvy combination of Twitter, Facebook and the power of a great deal, the CropMobster team has saved thousands of pounds of valuable produce from the compost pile. Meanwhile, they’ve helped bring much needed dollars and visibility to local independent producers, and become a strong and innovative voice in the fight for sustainable food systems.
So how exactly does CropMobster work?
“CropMobster™ is an online hub connecting farmers and food sellers to their local communities. When faced with situations of excess food going to waste, local farmers and producers can sign up with CropMobster to post alerts and valuable offers, which are then broadcast to the community via social media. Individuals, small food businesses and hunger relief organizations then roll up their sleeves to crowd source these offers as a community. The key is making sure that ‘win-win’ value is created.”
What was the inspiration and process for founding this unique organization?
“I serve as General Manager of my family’s Bloomfield Farms, a 50-acre organic farm in the SF Bay Area. Over a period of months we saw a tons of excess, yet perfectly nutritious, organic vegetables going to the chickens or the compost pile. I wanted a way to get this highly perishable food to community members and hunger relief organizations, and create value for my family’s farm at the same time.
“I began a series of fun experiments using social media and soon it became clear that something like CropMobster could really benefit my local community. And, given that 40% of food goes to waste in the US, I saw potential to help others at the same time. So I teamed with good friends and technologists Gary and Joanna Cedar to build our first prototype, and in late March we launched the project as CropMobster.com”
What was the initial response to the resource redistribution concept? Was it difficult to get family farmers, restaurants, food producers, etc. on board?
“The initial response to our concept and our tools has been great. Food waste is wrong. Hunger is avoidable. Local farms and economies need to be supported. These are issues everyone agrees on, so folks quickly understand the need for CropMobster, and are excited to be part of the solution.”
How does CropMobster empower individual citizens to take a more active role in food production?
“The issues of food waste, hunger and local producer and food seller viability are enormous. No single person, organization or law can make a dent large enough to be called ‘the solution,’ but CropMobster helps communities and individuals tackle these issues head-on.
“People spread alerts to folks who can make use of food or produce giveaways and discounts, and these many small acts of crowdsourcing quickly add up to create solutions. They also give us powerful stories of community mobilization. We do it all without a big time or dollar investment, and most people have fun with it.”
How many tons of food do you estimate CropMobster has saved and redistributed in the community?
“To date, we have saved 20 tons of food from going to waste. We’ve also supported dozens of non-profit hunger relief organizations and generated thousands of new dollars and visibility for local farms.
“We have even helped find homes for agricultural supplies like drip tape and plant starts, and we estimate that up to 30 school and community gardens have been established with plant starts at risk of going to waste.”
Tell us about one of CropMobster’s greatest success stories.
“A story that exemplifies our mission perfectly is a recent experience supporting local producer Laguna Farm. When faced with nearly $1,000 worth of healthy sustainable produce and no one to take it off their hands, Laguna Farm discounted the goods by 50% and put the word out via CropMobster.
“Within five hours all the fruits and vegetables had been snapped up by both local residents (several of whom donated the food to those in need) and even a nearby restaurant. Laguna Farms estimated that well over 400 pounds of fresh, healthy sustainable produce was saved just with a few clicks. Plus, it was a much needed financial boost to the farm and helped them get their name out to people who otherwise never would have heard of them.”
How has CropMobster impacted hunger relief and food insecurity in the eight California counties it serves?
“We regularly link hunger relief groups to food donations and gleaning opportunities. Approximately half of the alerts on CropMobster have been for food donations or gleanings, and these have been accepted by numerous non-profit hunger relief organizations. Plus many individual members just take charge on their own to distribute food to folks who need it.”
In just a few short months CropMobster has garnered high praise from farmers, consumers, sustainability advocates, policy makers and even Larry King. What are your goals for the future?
“Right now, we’re focused on learning, improving and evolving to a point where we can be of service to the many communities that have reached out requesting CropMobster for their area. We’ve received requests from every state and even a few other countries. This has all happened very fast. We all have day jobs too! So, right now it’s one day at a time; working to generate meaningful and measurable results while learning from our experiences and listening to our community.”
Do you see this crowdsourcing model as being easily transferable to other cities across the US?
“Definitely—and not just to cities, but to any community where there is food and people who need food.”
CropMobster just won the Sierra Nevada Innovation Challenge, can you tell us more about this particular honor? What will this recognition do to help you move CropMobster forward?
“This recognition got us some great PR. We met many leaders from the public and private sector who are now rolling up their sleeves to pitch in. But recognition and awards aside, our long term success is based on our impact—and generating good will and trust in communities. That is what we’re focusing on.”
How do you feel current food systems are failing both producers and consumers, not to mention the environment?
“Big question, worthy of days or years’ worth of dialogue and exchange. We have this same set of questions and there are a lot of clues, fewer answers and even fewer results. There are three main thoughts we are focusing on right now.
“First, the amount of food waste and inefficiency in the food system is crazy.
“Second, there are WAY too many people who either go hungry or are priced out of healthy food options. It’s a horrible situation for millions upon millions of people, and that’s not right or just.
“Finally, too many farmers and other small businesses who feed people are failing. And when the people who grow and produce food are struggling at these levels we have a serious, almost criminal, problem.
“We feel the best place to discuss these issues is out in the community. So, we invite people to come out to the CropMobster studio—which is based on a working vegetable farm—for “U-Pick Sundays”. We have a good time, walk the fields and talk about these issues first hand.”
What has social media like Facebook and Twitter done to help spread CropMobster’s mission? Do you feel more producers should be embracing these technologies?
“CropMobster connects with Facebook and Twitter, amazing tools for communicating and spreading the word. Many producers already embrace these technologies, but there is opportunity to improve how they are used. These technologies are best used to listen and exchange—and not just to tell people about a deal or constantly push information.
“That said, most of our producers are the hardest working folks in town—laboring hours on end and struggling to make ends meet. So, we can’t expect everyone to do everything. That’s why we started CropMobster; to pitch in.”
What words of advice or encouragement do you have for fledgling farmers and producers, or those struggling to maintain their operations?
“Keep truckin’. Reach out to your community. Ask for help. Keep learning. Stay true to your vision and passion.”
Is there any way those living outside the CropMobster service area can still contribute to the organization?
“Sure. The easiest way is to “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter. Those who would like to see CropMobster serving their community can drop us a note online.
“Also, we are working for tips only at this time, so if anyone is inspired by our story or simply wants to express their support, we encourage them to drop some coins in our tip jar.”
Go to CropMobster.com for more information, and to see their incredible deals on delicious, local food.