SNAP Gardens NYC Maker Faire by Glenn WesterPhoto Credit: Glenn Wester

Awesome Food is delighted to announce its third microgrant of $1,000 has been awarded to SNAP Gardens and Dinner Garden to fund a collaboration to raise awareness that food stamps can be used gardening. The project is among the nearly 800 projects from around the world who have applied for grants from Awesome Food, a chapter of the Awesome Foundation which made its first micro-grant award in October.

“We chose SNAP Gardens and Dinner Garden as this month’s recipients because of their original, sensible and sustainable approach to ending hunger,” said Angela Moore, an Awesome Food trustee and a vice president of digital for the Food Network who is a native of San Antonio, where Dinner Garden is based. “We look forward to witnessing the impact of the award as it fosters communication about the project and plays a part in helping Americans grow their own food.”

 

Daniel Bowman Simon holding SNAP Gardens signs

SNAP Gardens was started in 2011 by New Yorker Daniel Bowman Simon in an attempt to bring to light decades-old legislation: in 1973, an amendment was made to the 1964 Food Stamp Act to allow the purchase of seeds and food-producing plants. While it’s been possible to use food stamps to purchase seeds and plants ever since, it hasn’t happened much, because, as Simon says, “It’s been buried in the fine print.” Simon’s mission has been to raise awareness of this legislation to beneficiaries and administrators of the food stamp program, now known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program  (SNAP).

Amanda Hesser, an Awesome Food trustee and co-founder of FOOD52, added, “SNAP Gardens and Dinner Garden show us that we don’t always need to create new programs but to maximize the initiatives — like food stamps — that we already have. They have a clear mission to get the word out that food stamps can be used to buy seeds and plants, and we believe it’s an important one.”

In its short time so far, SNAP Gardens has already distributed posters to farmers markets in 24 states and Washington DC. Their posters are designed to reach a wide audience through translation in multiple languages, including Spanish, Hmong, Cherokee, and Mandarin. Their hope is to help make gardening a viable option for people who may have limited resources and immediate hunger needs.

SNAP Gardens posters in Hmong, Cherokee, and Mandarin

The accolades SNAP Gardens have received thus far include winning the “Editor’s Choice” award at NYC Maker Faire in September and presenting a webinar titled “Food Stamps Grow Gardens” to the USDA’s People’s Garden in October, which attracted nearly 1,000 listeners, including many Master Gardeners.  Simon noted that although the word is getting out to many, he believes that only a small fraction of the nearly 46 million Americans on food stamps now know that they can choose to buy seeds and plants, it’s the beginning of having more and more gardens in every state, and a great opportunity to help people feed themselves.

Dinner Garden — a non-profit based in San Antonio, Texas — sends free starter packs of vegetable seeds to low-income families nationwide, and has distributed tens of thousands of packets across all 50 states. “We want to make sure that everyone who gets free seeds from Dinner Garden also knows that if they receive food stamps, they can buy some of their own seeds and plants. And if they don’t get food stamps, as dedicated gardeners, they can, and will, help spread the word!” Simon explained.

The grant will be used to print information cards and to establish a toll-free information hotline for a full year — all to increase awareness of food stamp use for seeds and plants. The information cards will be sent to 15,000 Dinner Garden recipients with their seeds, and the hotline will provide access to information in multiple languages, as well as providing a place for people to share stories and ask questions.

“It’s exemplary activism,” said Raj Patel, author of The Value of Nothing and Stuffed and Starved. “I had no idea such provisions existed in the law, and am so glad both that Daniel found them, and that he’s developing the micro-flash of insight into a much more sustained and important project. If it pans out, it’ll make possible a new wave of urban agriculture supported by entitlements that already exist (and in budget strapped times, that’s legislatively vital) — and that’ll make a huge difference in the under-served communities that already depend on food stamps. And that’s what I love about this project — it builds on what’s already there in terms of hunger legislation, and turns it in a new a possibly transformative direction for the very communities most underserved by the urban gardening movement.”

Simon added that while there are over 1.8 million SNAP recipients in New York City alone, he sees a strong audience for the program in rural areas where SNAP recipients are more likely to have access to arable land, and may already have gardening experience.

Gary Oppenheimer of AmpleHarvest.org, an organization that urges gardeners to donate excess produce to food pantries, echoed this sentiment, adding that planting seeds and growing food can really help take some of the growing burden off of food pantries.

Concrete Jungle, fruit picking

Awesome Food is delighted to announce its second microgrant of $1,000 has been awarded to Concrete Jungle, a volunteer-run Atlanta-based organization that distributes urban crops to homeless shelters and other charities. Concrete Jungle  is among the nearly 800 projects from around the world who have applied for grants from Awesome Food, a chapter of the Awesome Foundation which made its first micro-grant award in October.

“We picked Concrete Jungle because of what they’ve picked as their expertise — finding uses for fruit across Atlanta that otherwise would go to waste,” said Micki Maynard, creator of CulinaryWoman and an Awesome Food trustee. “At every step, this awesome project is helping someone or something. It aids the environment, by keeping the trees bountiful and healthy. It helps community groups with its donations of fruit, and allows them to do their work helping the hungry.”

Concrete Jungle was started in Atlanta in 2009 by Craig Durkin and Aubrey Daniels. Durkin, Daniels and several friends had noticed a large amount of apples growing on neglected trees all over Atlanta. The group decided to an annual gathering, nicknamed Ciderfest, to turn them into apple cider. But after several years of increasing apple harvests, the scale of fresh produce going to waste in Atlanta became apparent. That led Durkin and Daniels to start the organization.


Nearing the end of its third year, Concrete Jungle has now documented nearly 1,000 fruit-bearing treesacross the city, and has donated nearly 6,000 lbs of produce to local homeless shelters and charitable organizations.

“This food comes from the hundreds of fruit and nut trees growing in the Atlanta area — in yards, on the side of the road, next to buildings,” Daniels explained. “Most of these trees are untended and ignored, with their bounty being wasted to wildlife, while only miles away many poor and homeless struggle to include any fresh produce in their diet.  Concrete Jungle works to fix this sad situation in a fun and efficient way.”

Before going out on a “pick,” the group documents the tree to make sure that it is bountiful and yielding healthy fruit, Daniels explained. If it is on private land, the group gets verbal permission, and then gives the owner a heads up when the group arrives to pick the fruit.

In deciding what to donate, the group reviews how much fruit it has; whether it’s an easy fruit to work with, such as apples, or a more complicated kind, like persimmons; the size of the shelter and the work the shelter is doing. “It’s very much a utilitarian calculation with bonus points for shelters that do a good job,” Daniels said.

The grant will be used for an eclectic set of tools to make fruit picking easier and more fun: bow and arrows to get ropes over high branches; sticks made by Nerf to hit fruit down from high places; inflatable pool rafts to cushion produce that falls from up high; a baby pool for people to sit in while they scrub apples; and hard hats to protect from falling fruit.

In addition, with leftover money, the group hopes to buy mini-apple grinders and juices to make cider. This way they can use apples that can’t be eaten whole.

Lastly, they hope to buy fruit trees to plant in public places for future picks, which the group say they believe they can get the city to sanction.

Concrete Jungle, fruit picking

One of Concrete Jungle’s clients is the kitchen at Mercy Community Church,  which has received about 500 pounds of fruit this year, said the church’s pastor, Maggy Leonard.

“What Concrete Jungle offers us is truly unique,” she said. “They have figured out a simple, seemingly obvious, means of addressing the problem of hunger that plagues our city.  While most of our donations come from the waste of others, Concrete Jungle offers us delicious, fresh fruit that is fit to be eaten by anyone.”

Concrete Jungle pre-sorts, checking it for worms and bruised spots, and washes the fruit it donates to the church, she said. “They do all that they can to ensure that the food will last as long as possible once they give it to us.”

The church uses the fruit both whole and in jam that is used at breakfast and lunch, Leonard said. “There is no doubt in my mind that they would do good and responsible work with grant money,” she added.

You can follow Concrete Jungle on Twitter and Facebook.

 

Awesome Food is superexcited to announce that its inaugural micro-grant of $1,000 has been awarded to CompostMobile, a residential compost service based in Miami, Florida that provides a home pick-up service for food scraps that are then delivered to urban farms and community gardens. Compost Mobile, which is a project of the non-profit UP-Lab, was chosen out almost 600 applications submitted to the first round of Awesome Food call for proposals.

“We think CompostMobile is awesome because it’s making a difference at the ground level,” said Jeff Potter, author of Cooking for Geeks who is one of the Awesome Food trustees. “They’re figuring out how to take food scraps from the home and use them to help low-income communities start gardens and urban farms. It’s an awesome idea because it takes a bunch of problems—waste, food illiteracy, lack of nutritious food—and cancels them out by combining them in an awesome way!”

Jennifer Siqueira, coordinator of CompostMobile and co-founder of UP-Lab with Hector F. Burga, had been working in community gardens locally, when she learned of  a similar scraps to-compost effort in Washington DC. (There are similar efforts throughout the country).

Jennifer explained, “I had friends who came to me with their scraps of food, asking me to take it to my other friends in various community gardens throughout Miami. I started wondering if I could start a program where hundreds of individuals could start disposing of their food scraps in the same manner and in doing so provide a wider community benefit. Since the number one commodity of a great farm or garden is good soil, I started questioning why we should continue dumping perfectly good compostables in landfills, when we can re-use them to create a network of collaboration and alternative sustainability practices in Miami.”

“With this funding opportunity from Awesome Food, we can get more people participating in the program and coordinate with other UP-Lab efforts of similar scope,” she said.

The first compost pickup, which took place in July 2011, was a 10 pounds of compost delivered to the compost pile at Earth & Us Farm in Miami.  Compost Mobile started with only two households in July, but grew to four households in August and eight households in September. Now the service collects about 30 pounds of scraps per week from between 15 and 20 residences and small businesses.

In order to start collecting scraps in any neighborhood, they need 10 homes to compost in each area. Currently, they are hoping to start four groups in Miami Beach, Brickell, Upper East Side and El Portal.

CompostMobile’s motto is “We want your scraps. Stale Food. Inedible. Leftovers.” Residential customers are given a plastic bucket to collect their food scraps.  The process is very simple, explained Vanessa Stelmach, one of Compost Mobile’s clients.  “All I do is collect my food scraps in a plastic bin and once a week Jennifer comes to my place to pick it up, usually on Saturdays. If I’m not going to be home, I leave my bucket at the front door steps and a few hours later, I pick up the empty bin and start collecting my scraps again, or sometimes I drop the scraps off at the farm where she lives.” Ms. Stemach added, “Jennifer pretty much is my organic garbage lady ;)”

CompostMobile customers are charged a disposal and pick-up fee, but compost recipients receive the scraps at no charge.  “The idea of collecting food scraps isn’t something that most people understand, so getting them to invest in a compost bin was too much,” said Jennifer. “With the funding, we can get more people participating in the program. The more that people see it, the more they can understand the benefits on the environment. Someone who lives in a high-rise, just by giving their food scraps, becomes connected to the community farm they walk by, and that helps people become connected and learn more about their food.”

CompostMobile will use the grant towards purchasing more composting buckets, which cost around $18 a piece, for clients’ homes.

For more information about CompostMobile, contact  at Jennifer[at]up-lab[dot]org! You can also follow the project on Facebook and Twitter.

Below is a picture of CompostMobile’s first batch of food scraps which was delivered to the compost pile at Earth & Us Farm in July 2011.

(CompostMobile gives permission for all pictures here to be grabbed and used for other posts)

Thanks to everyone who submitted to the first Awesome Food grant! It’s been overwhelming. Not only do we have applications from all over the United States and Canada, but also have applications from around the world: Tel Aviv, Shanghai, London, Melbourne. It’s great to see how much Food Awesomeness there is.

So, 600 is a record for any of the Awesome Foundation chapters, and it will take us a bit to figure out how to process them. But we are scurrying around trying to figure out how to narrow it down.

And yes, the applications are good for subsequent rounds. If they are not time sensitive, the top ones will automatically be rolled into considerations.

In our ideal world, we’d announce in early September. (Wiggle room)

Awesome Food, a chapter of the worldwide Awesome Foundation, officially launched on Wednesday, July 20 and is now accepting grant applications from around the world to further food awesomeness in the universe. Visit awesomefood.net to learn more and apply at awesomefood.net/apply. The first round for application deadline is end-of-day, Friday, August 5th. Read More…