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CropMobster gives leftover produce a second chance

Farm-to-School, Farm-to-Fork, Farm-to-City and Farm-to-Chef all connect farmers and their fresh produce with individuals, businesses and organizations, but there are still the inevitable leftovers.

CropMobster is a social media answer to unsold leftovers, using crowd sourcing to provide a second round of opportunity for farmers to sell — or sometimes donate — fruits and vegetables before they go bad.

“This issue is starting to become prominent on the mindset of our culture,” said Nick Papadopoulos, general manager of Bloomfield Farms in California, who is spearheading the effort. “About 40% of all food goes uneaten. Over half of fruits and vegetables are wasted, yet one in six people suffer from food insecurity. And another issue, close to my heart:  50% of small farms are losing money.”

Papadopoulos, an organizational guru, comes to farming after years as a consultant, project manager and business leader. It wasn’t long before he realized that each Sunday, when he took a look at remaining produce stock, a good amount was not going to be sold.

He went to Facebook and “started swinging little Facebook deals” to try to sell the fruits and vegetables, offering 70% off and telling people the produce had to go quickly. An hour after his first post, he said, a woman arrived at the farm, bought all the produce offered and distributed it to neighbors in her subdivision.

Quickly it was dubbed a “crop mob.”

“We’ve got all this supply wasted and lost, a huge amount of demand and the dots are not being connected,” Papadopoulos said. “We can try to connect the dots. We need to connect our hearts and minds around this issue.”

The website went active in March, sending out community alerts to thousands of people, using social media, when farmers have unsold produce and telling the stories of farmers who use the site because Papadopoulos is committed to building a movement and a community.

CropMobster quickly expanded from the original Bloomfield farm to 11 California counties and Papadopoulos said he has received requests from every state.

The rules are simple. In the counties served, farmers, ranchers or anyone with excess food can go to the site, post an alert, ask for donation, offer a deal or give it away free. Papadopoulos and his team spend time helping people refine their message and they moderate the forum.

Farmers often are willing to donate foods to ensure it gets eaten. The generosity is paid back in new partners or customers.

Hunger relief agencies can post what they need, and seniors are also getting involved. One elderly woman who asked for 100 pounds of canning tomatoes found a farm that gave them to her.

The response has been a little overwhelming for Papadopoulos, who admitted the business side of the venture is less developed than the philanthropic side. There is no formal payment system  between seller and buyer yet, and CropMobster pays its staff using a “tip jar” icon on the website.

The goal is to expand to all of California in the next 16 months. Papadopoulos has just finished a business plan and said he has significant interest from investors. He’s taking his pitch to organizations and groups everywhere he can.