Food is one of our most basic needs. And yet, for over 800 million people, food insecurity remains a daily issue. While top-down programs that address hunger certainly exist, more efficient, immediate solutions are sometimes found on the community level, where neighbors directly help neighbors.
We’ve rounded up 23 food projects that are transforming communities by feeding the hungry, educating people about healthy eating and food justice issues, and providing opportunities for people to grow their own food.
Bringing an altruistic twist to the food truck trend, Finnegan’s Reverse Food Truck in Minnesota collects food and donations to give to the hungry. The team is currently working to collect $50,000 in non-perishable food by November. Read more.
2. Food is Free
Demonstrating the value of both growing food and building community, the Food is Free project in Austin, teaches people how to grow food in their front yards using raised garden beds made from salvaged materials and drought-tolerant, low-maintenance vegetable plants. The resulting harvests are free for anyone in the community. Read more.
Working to make Kenya a food secure, environmentally friendly country, Plant a Fruit, well, as the name suggests, plants fruit trees. In addition to providing food using smart, ecologically-sound techniques, the organization trains “agripreneurs,” serves as a network, and increases the amount of organic food consumed in Kenya.
This cooperative, comprising formerly incarcerated people, dairy farmers, criminal justice advocates and more works to end upstate New York’s investment in mass incarceration. By selling the Milk Not Jails brand of dairy products, sourced from farmers who support the transition of the area’s prison industrial complex into a revitalized agricultural economy, the organization creates income for struggling dairy farmers, cooperative work for formerly incarcerated people, and food for New Yorkers.
The Green Hands Project in Sacramento, California provides food solutions and gardening training to disadvantaged people by turning unused lots into organic gardens.
Photo: Colin McConnell/Toronto Star
The first of its kind in Canada, the Kitchen Library in Toronto is a library for kitchen appliances including mixers, juicers, dehydrators, pasta makers, ice cream makers and more.
7. Rust Belt Riders Composting
Based in Cleveland, this bicycle-powered, worker owned cooperative picks up food scraps from your home, business or event and pedals them off to be composted. The project supports 300-plus community gardens, a tool lending library and 15 local farmers’ markets.
Photo: Erin Brethauer/Asheville Citizen-Times
A worker-owned cooperative mobile market, the Ujamaa Freedom Market sells local produce and healthy prepared foods to under-served communities in Asheville, North Carolina. The vision for the project is to feed and nourish the whole community and to promote social, economic, environmental, and food justice.
9. Santa Barbara Food Independence Co-Operative
The Food Independence Co-Operative (Food Indy Co-Op) is a worker-owned cooperative that provides educational work and food sharing opportunities in local gardens, orchards and farms. Members are paid in Santa Barbara Missions, the local complementary currency, which can be used to buy produce as well as meals at local restaurants and cafeterias.
grOCAD is a group of Ontario College of Art and Design (OCAD) students, faculty and staff working to “increase healthy food accessibility, encourage discourse about how plants improve quality of life, and heighten awareness to urban agricultural practices.” They do this by cultivating areas in and around OCAD’s campus. Projects include an aquaponic window farm, a learning zone hydroponic farm, a vertical farm and various workshops.
11. Burrito Riders
The Burrito Riders have provided over 10,000 breakfast burritos to the homeless in Huntington, West Virginia. But the burrito is just a way to meet people–the real goal is to “connect with the people…and to show them, through a building of relationships, that they are valued and respected.”
With a vision to “create jobs by assisting food entrepreneurs to fulfill their dreams of a bold and vibrant business community,” Food 4 Social Change is a Bay Area kitchen incubator, described as a business incubator with a kitchen attached. Services offered include culinary skills training, life skills classes, entrepreneur workshops and more. There’s a particular focus on helping the homeless, ex-cons and at-risk youth.
13. Shore Soup
In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, Shore Soup was created as a grassroots way to get food to those who needed it. A network of over 400 volunteers was created to serve meals to homebound seniors, families without access to healthy food, individuals living in public housing and those who were displaced by the storm. The project continues to thrive and has, since its inception, delivered over 50,000 free healthy meals throughout the Rockaway community.
The People’s Kitchen has a mission to provide access to affordable, healthy, local and bulk foods, to share skills and knowledge about preparing healthy meals, to demonstrate the health benefits of healthy eating, and to support local growers. By doing so, they increase food security, encourage community involvement, and deepen people’s connection to the earth. Projects include skillshares and cookshares, a member-owned cooperative food buying club, and a healing garden. Read more.
15. Los Angeles Urban Fruit Trail
In an effort to transform the neighborhoods surrounding downtown Los Angeles, organizers are creating the Urban Fruit Trail, a walkable network-in-progress of fruit trees. The trees, along with accompanying art created by local youth, will be geotagged and available in a free app. Read more.
With a vision to create a more just and less wasteful food system, Boulder Food Rescue recovers perfectly good food that would otherwise go to the landfill and distributes it to local agencies that feed the homeless and low-income communities. The cherry on top is that 80 percent of the project's pickup and delivery is done by bicycle. Read more.
Food waste is not just a problem with grocers and food stores; it can be an issue on farms as well. Nick Papadopolous, general manager of Bloomfield Farms in Sonoma County, Ca. decided to do something about that. He founded Cropmobster, a platform designed to connect farmers with extra food to organizations that can use it. A double-win, Cropmobster addresses hunger and food waste and strengthens the connection between farmers and the local community. Read more.
The Open Food Foundation, based in Australia, aims to "develop and protect a commons of open source knowledge, code, applications and platforms for fair and sustainable food systems." What this means is that they're working to build and strengthen networks and organizations dedicated to food justice and sustainability issues using the open source ethos. Read more.
Photo: Illumination Fund
Mobile carts that sell affordable fruits and vegetables in areas of New York City considered food deserts, Green Carts were introduced in 2008 to help fight high childhood obesity rates. The carts bring culturally-appropriate fresh foods to people who otherwise have limited access to them. Read more.
Based in Greenville, South Carolina, Gardening for Good is a network of community gardens whose members work together to further the community garden movement, create better neighborhoods and improve community health through gardening. By doing so, the network builds stronger communities, encourages civic engagement and provides access to healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate foods.
A quickly-expanding, multi-university project, the Food Recovery Network redirects campus food headed for the landfill and distributes it to local organization working to address hunger. Originally formed at the University of Maryland, College Park, the network now includes nearly 100 colleges in 26 states. Read more.
Neighborhoods intentionally created around community farms, agrihoods build community, promote healthy and sustainable food production, encourage the sharing of resources and more.
A project of Let’s Go Chicago, an organization that brings gardening and community-based programs together, the Yard Sharing Network connects people with under-used land with community members looking for a place to grow food. Growers and homeowners divide the produce with local food distribution organizations.
What food projects are doing transformational work in your town? In the comments, please let us know.
Top photo: Food is Free participants in their outdoor kitchen. Follow @CatJohnson on Twitter