50 million Americans rely on the more than 33,500 food pantries to help feed their families. Pantries almost never have fresh produce and instead rely on processed produce shipped in at significant economic and environmental cost. At the same time, 40+ million home and community gardeners nationwide with an abundant harvest did not know that they could, how they could or where they could share their harvest. Created at the depths of the economic meltdown in 2009, I built AmpleHarvest.org to do something no one has ever done before – take what had been assumed to be an intractable problem (hunger) only manageable by the government and move it back to the community which in times past, were the original solution to neighbors needing help. Neither the government nor a multi-billion dollar food bank industry ever figured out to get fresh locally grown food to panties – leaving hundreds of millions of pounds of food to rot. I did. We plugged the leak in the dike by connecting the dots between the excess food in the community to the demand using the Internet in an immediately achievable manner that could be implemented in every community in America at no cost to the donor or the recipient. It was the solution that was always there yet never noticed. We work with food banks & pantries & government to do what they never could before – get fresh food to those with least access to it. The only fear was the fear of not trying something that obviously was urgently needed and would succeed.
AmpleHarvest.org, conceived of in March 2009 was ready for national roll out only 7 weeks later – complete with beta testing, partnerships, the web site and marketing campaign all in place. Within weeks, Google Inc. approved a $10K/month (since increased to $40K/month) advertising grant – a process that normally takes 6 months. 150 days after rollout, the 1,000th food pantry registered and 11 months later, I was named CNN Hero. Today, nearly 6,000 food pantries in all 50 states are participating. In 2011, our second year of operations, more than 20 million lbs. of locally grown food was donated. It has been promoted by the White House (www.AmpleHarvest.org/WhiteHouse) and the National Council of Churches (www.AmpleHarvest.org/NCCC) to name two, and presented at TEDx Manhattan (www.AmpleHarvest.org/TEDx). It is now being replicated, with our assistance in other countries. The goal of AmpleHarvest.org is to educate, encourage and empower 40+ million growers nationwide to end hunger by changing the way they handle excess food. It is a nationwide (now going global) movement to recover food much as we learned to recycle trash 40+ years ago. The plan is to double the number of participating food pantries and to increase the donations to 200 million lbs. I’m also looking to roll out a new program to target farmers, community gardens etc. to connect them with gleaning organizations nationwide. My goal is no food left behind and the end game is a healthier America.
People have been convinced that you can’t eliminate hunger or malnutrition in America and that an ever expanding food bank network is the solution. I disagree. I believe that to do the impossible, you must first believe it isn’t. The solution is to connect the dots between the food and the need – have excess supply reach demand using existing resources already in place. I’m also convinced that to succeed, you should only do what others don’t/can’t do, stay true to the mission, partner wherever possible and surround yourself with people from different areas of expertise who are equally passionate, capable and committed to the goal. Our team includes 3 people with non-profit experience, two with a technical background, a TV producer/host, a PhD candidate from Duke U. and an executive director from a major food bank. Each has been touched by America’s hunger/nutrition problem in one way or another and each is committed to seeing the situation change. In the bigger picture, our team is 40+ million altruistic growers nationwide who are being educated, encouraged and empowered to end hunger and malnutrition in their own community using only what is in their garden. These people are the partners that will keep feeding America long after AmpleHarvest.org has completed its work. This solution is new and the goal is within reach. We’re in uncharted waters but sailing full steam ahead. If we encounter a problem, we look, learn and adjust, but we keep moving along towards the goal.
The Fearless Changemaker
My proudest accomplishment is raising a daughter who graduated cum laud from college with a dual major, was a nationally ranked athlete (bike racer), speaks 4 languages and is a global traveler working as an intern focused on human rights. Way below that is 1. Being an early pioneer in personal computers and quickly realizing that technology can change the world in a societally beneficial way. 2. Demonstrating what may be the first working example of electronic mail I created in 1976. 3. Helping MCI launch commercial email in 1985, creating the first electronic newsletter & soon thereafter, and becoming MCI’s global guru on email. 4. Creating and launching AmpleHarvest.org in 2009, changing the American (and increasingly global) food system and creating a nationwide conversation about solving hunger and malnutrition. I found a way for 40 million Americans to realize that, to borrow a friends expression, the solution to hunger is in their backyard. That AmpleHarvest.org enables people to actually fight hunger and to do it in an environmentally beneficial way AND to actually do it for the rest of their lives at no cost to themselves is, to me, the best part. 5. Being named CNN Hero in 2010 and Huff Post Game Changer 2011 and being invited to the White House 5 times (including meeting the President and First Lady). 6. Still being able to bike 100 miles in a day... and then get back on my bike the next day.