Open source model helps NC solve hunger problem

Co-authored by Margaret Gifford & John Whitehead…

For many people spring means a return to the bounty of fresh, local food from farmers markets. But for the one in five people in North Carolina who are facing hunger, that bounty is not an option. This was the challenge that we—a high-tech marketer and an engineer recently relocated from Silicon Valley—set out to solve in 2009. With the help of the open source model, a diverse band of collaborative change makers and engaged community members, the solution took root and continues to grow.

Farmer Foodshare, Inc. (NC)


The challenge

The problems seemed unrelated. Farmers were experiencing a loss of revenue as the recession deepened. Simultaneously, increasing numbers of people were accessing social services to feed their families. Agencies struggled to provide enough food, particularly healthy options, to the growing lines of food-insecure people.

A closer look revealed that the farmers grew enough to feed everyone, but were unable to sell everything. Unsold food was thrown away, composted or fed to animals. Furthermore, traditional donation-only food aid models rely on gathering leftovers, which left the agencies and their consumers with substandard and inconsistent supply. While it was great that the gleaners were trying to provide fresh food, these efforts were often at the expense of farmers, who were themselves struggling to make a living.

The idea

We saw this as a distribution problem in need of some re-imagining. The network was broken: good food from farmers was getting stuck at the distribution hubs (farmers markets), so produce was rotting or being thrown away. People within walking distance of the markets did not have enough healthy food. The solution was so simple it became our mission: connect people who grow food with people who need food.

We also knew instinctively that hunger is not an ownable problem. The solution needed to be designed by the community. An individual organization could be part of the change, but it must bring resources and collaboration, not competition.

As a marketer, Margaret knew that to get all the players on board, she’d have to change the conversation around local food to include the expectation that all members of the community deserve access to the highest quality local food — while not alienating or placing additional burden on the producers. She had recently been working with Tarus Balog of OpenNMS Group. She liked the community-based problem solving that is inherent in open source software programming and at the heart of high tech innovation.

The core team came up with Farmer Foodshare, an open source-based approach to solving hunger and malnutrition using community food, creativity, and collaboration. Everybody eats. Everybody shares. Everybody wins.

Farmer Foodshare was created on the basis of a few core open insights:

  • everybody should be able to eat great food
  • hunger is the problem of a community
  • nobody can own the solution exclusively

Farmer Foodshare freely provides the processes and operations our community members have designed for others to use and improve. Membership for farmers markets and food distribution agencies is open to all. The names Farmer Foodshare and Donation Station are community contributed and licensable; participants just have to agree to certain quality guidelines.

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