In the News
October 29, 2013
Food waste is a growing problem in the U.S. and globally. According to a recent report from the United Nations, the total amount of food wastage annually is equal to 28% of the world’s agricultural land area; approximately one-third of all food produced for human consumption in the world is lost or wasted. Various food programs, from the Food Recovery Network to City Harvest, have made it their goal to recover food that would otherwise go to waste and redistribute it to the hungry. But none of these programs have focused on using community crowdsourcing to attack the problem of agricultural food waste and help small family farms and food businesses along the way – until now.
CropMobster™ is the brainchild of Bloomfield Farms general manager Nick Papadopoulos (along with Joanna and Gary Cedar), who grew extremely frustrated when he noticed the recurring pattern of unsold surplus food. For instance, he watched his employees return from Farmers Markets with unsold produce, and that nutritious food then went to chickens for feed or to compost.
“I started to notice that a lot of food wasn’t going to people. There was so much nutrition just sitting here going to waste, and I realized there was an opportunity to create a community exchange for surplus. I wanted to create a program that could help farmers and other food producers at least recover their costs and get exposure for the farm, help the environment, and get this food out to the community in a compelling way. If we could create something that would build a community platform and maybe even a movement that allowed people to see eye to eye around the issue of food waste, then we knew this could be a great endeavor,” says Papadopoulos.
Papadopoulos did his research and discovered that 40% of all food in the United States goes uneaten. Worst of all, most of that food never reaches hungry people. Hunger is a pressing issue in the U.S. More than 50 million Americans (1 in 6) have no idea where their next meal is coming from, and 1 in 5 of those 50 million are children.
So Papadopoulos started to post online about the available leftover produce on his farm, offering it at a reduced cost, and even offering it for free to hunger relief organizations. Before he knew it, the word had spread, and other farmers wanted to get in the loop. CropMobster became a full-fledged website and social network community in March 2013, and today functions like a series of classified ads for fresh produce, livestock and even surplus materials and equipment.
When a farm or restaurant or other food seller has excess perishable food that they’d like to contribute to the community as a deal, donation or freebie, members get an instant email alert and can take it from there. Farms, agricultural producers and food sellers can post opportunities and offers to the community, creating affordable access to fresh food, free donations and other surplus items. This interaction also helps facilitate connections between farms and sellers of food with everyday residents, food kitchens and hunger relief organizations.
Recently, for example, Papadopoulos’ farm had a great harvest of dry-farmed, heirloom tomatoes. Even though their tomatoes were flying off the farm, they still counted over 330 pounds of tomatoes that were ripening, over-ripening, and then becoming unsellable in the primary market to retailers. They launched a CropMobster post and within four hours a local man had organized his neighbors to do a canning party. He came to the farm, filled up his truck with tomatoes, and handed over payment that helped recover the cost of the tomatoes. Those tomatoes were prevented from going to waste, and Papadopoulos’ farm didn’t loose any income in the process of unloading it.
Another earlier post from CropMobster advertised 30 chickens that were going to be put down by the Humane Society. These chickens were still laying eggs, but no one wanted them until CropMobster ran the ad. Within an hour and a half, those chickens found a home, and they are still laying eggs for a couple of families in the area.
“The reality is that farming and food business is tough. We need a system that allows this kind of information to get out to as many people as possible, which is why we like using crowdsourcing and social media. We also like to tell the story of each farm or small business we feature,” he says.
Indeed, the program has become an emerging tool for marketing local and small farms to an interested consumer base. According to FarmsReach, 53% of farmers in the U.S. record a net loss and struggle to break even and pay the bills. For a small farm specifically, this type of positive exposure is crucial – and necessary for boosting the farm’s chances of survival in this competitive food landscape.
When an alert goes out, CropMobster includes rich information about the unique story of each farm and what’s going on the farm that led to the surplus. They’ve had farms tell them that they were able to move their product, recover costs and get more website hits in one day than in the last three months combined. One woman even told Papadopoulos that she got 30 emails from her single post.
“These are deals, and the farms aren’t making a lot of money on them. But the marketing value is substantial, and our goal is to help these small businesses build an online community around their brand. We want them to get long term, full price business as a result of providing a deal or freebie online. CropMobster is helping farms generate new, loyal customers and friends,” says Papadopoulos.
CropMobster started in one county and now they’re in 11. They have saved upwards of 100,000 pounds of vegetables, fruit and meat from going to waste, and that doesn’t include farm animals or equipment or other surplus that has been posted. They generate new dollars for farms and local businesses, and are getting piloted, not only by farms, but also by grocers like Bi-Rite Market. Eventually, Papadopoulos would like to grow CropMobster throughout the state of California and throughout the country. He and his partners also just launched Food Waste News, a website dedicated to streamlining and aggregating information about food waste from all segments of the industry.
“We really want to create a platform for anyone in the community supply chain to make an offer based on what works for them. The power of community is incredible. We can connect with technology, and we can also connect hearts and minds on this issue, have fun, and make some real progress on pressing issues. I know we can take this throughout the entire county and influence the entire globe. I really hope we can step up the level of urgency around this problem of food waste and change things,” he adds.