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Natural Awakenings Rhode Island

FreshConn: An Online Farmer’s Market with a Social Responsibility

by Wendy Fachon

When Patrick Straus and Brandon Monti look at problems, they see solutions. Co-founders of FreshConn, Straus and Monti represent the emerging generation of spirit-inspired social entrepreneurs. Rhode Island-based FreshConn is pioneering an innovative social-enterprise model that combines e-commerce and delivery with social responsibility. That social responsibility is food rescue in the service of impoverished communities and childhood nutritional education, and these aspects of the business are handled by FreshConn’s affiliated non-profit organization (NPO), Feed the Streets USA (FTS), founded by Straus.

Together, FreshConn and FTS address the rescue and distribution of fresh product raised by local farms that would otherwise be wasted. Food waste consumes 21 percent of all fresh water, 18 percent of cropland and 21 percent of landfill volume. While FreshConn is currently beta testing the concept with its consumer shopping app in Rhode Island, it plans to start rolling out further afield in Spring 2019.

Some waste is comprised of food that remains unsold after weekly farmer’s markets. Some waste is produce that remains unpicked due to overabundant crop production. FreshConn markets the excess production to consumers via an online grocery store, thereby increasing sales for the farmer while also assuming the responsibility of delivery to the consumer. There is no warehousing; the food is harvested upon purchase for direct delivery. Every purchase supports food rescue and feeds local residents living in impoverished communities.

Additionally, FreshConn’s services save the farmer time and money, as there is no need to transport product long distances. The farmers benefit from innovation in a developing technology age, without needing to be technical themselves. Farmers can focus on what they do best—grow—while FreshConn does the rest. FDA projects 25 percent of total food dollars will be spent on e-commerce over the next 10 years, and FreshConn is poised for this opportunity.

In addition to connecting local consumers with local farmers through an online farmer’s market that delivers directly to consumer, FreshConn has a national vision in the service of all communities, connecting NPO’s that need the food with local producers that otherwise could not glean themselves. Gleaning is the ancient practice of collecting unharvested produce from farmer’s fields and distributing it to people in need. It is a proven model for improving food security and minimizing food waste.

Hope’s Harvest RI, an NPO affiliated with FTS, is a startup gleaning project with the goal of mobilizing volunteers to collect food from local farms that would otherwise go to waste and distributing it to local hunger relief agencies. This rescue organization gleaned over 13,000 pounds of produce—chard, kale, kohlrabi, strawberries and more—since May this year, and delivered it to The Jonnycake Center of Westerly, the East Bay Food Pantry, in Bristol, and the Olneyville Food Center. Its goal is to rescue 15,000 pounds of food this year alone, feeding more than 2,000 families. As FreshConn’s social responsibility NPO, Feed the Streets USA will be present in every state into which it expands. FTS also provides nutritional education programs, and it has an immediate goal to educate, empower and inform 1,000 parents and children alike within nutrition and agriculture by next year.

FreshConn’s nine-month beta testing phase centers on Westerly’s Hillandale Food Hub and 15 associated producers, however, this market’s products are available for delivery across Rhode Island. In Spring 2019, FreshConn will launch with sourcing from more than 100 producers within Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts, and rescue more than 15,000 pounds of local food for the community.

Straus sums it up, “We believe that everyone deserves to live their healthiest life through better access to local, nutrient-dense food. We take a really complicated system and uncomplicate it through our e-commerce platform. Our platform connects local growers and artisans to customers and fills in any last mile logistics gaps through our driver network. We offer a real solution to customers and farmers. This will be a future health and wellness lifestyle brand rather than a trend.”

Straus also operates the Rhode Island chapter of the Global Shapers Community, a network of young people driving dialogue, action and change, and based in Geneva at the World Economic Forum. He states, “In the end, we believe, the greatest among us are those who serve, as we not only voice the problem but will be industry leaders becoming the innovative solution.”

FTS began three years ago, serving nearly 100 Thanksgiving dinners to the homeless around Providence. Thanksgiving baskets will be provided to those in need again this year, and FreshConn is offering free delivery services for nonprofit organizations looking to deliver Thanksgiving baskets to particular Rhode Island communities. Rhode Islanders can help support these efforts by shopping local farm and artisan products with FreshConn’s new app for e-commerce delivery. Seasonal items include grass-fed beef, cage-free chicken, butternut squash, beets, pumpkin, apples and more.

Shop at Volunteer for gleaning at Apply to become driver for FreshConn on their website. Donate or volunteer to help feed those in need at Like and share these organizations through social media. Share outreach efforts, and use the hashtag #feedthestreetsusa. Help to build a culture of people helping people. To learn more, contact Patrick Straus at [email protected].

Wendy Fachon is a regular contributor for Natural Awakenings and helps deliver youth enrichment curriculum for The Empowerment Factory