Guest blog post by: Farmers Union member, Spoiler Alert
Healthy Acadia is a Maine-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit working to build healthy communities. In partnership with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension, Healthy Acadia coordinates gleaning opportunities throughout Hancock and Washington counties, a region characterized by significant levels of poverty and food insecurity. Healthy Acadia connects volunteers with farms, orchards, farmers’ markets, and other food producers and vendors to collect food that would otherwise go to waste and then manages distribution of the collected food to community meal sites and food pantries.
THE GOAL: CREATE A LOCAL FOOD HUB AND IMPROVE COMMUNICATION
Hannah Semler, Healthy Acadia’s Gleaning Coordinator for Hancock County, wanted to streamline the food recovery program’s communication and transportation efforts and create a more connected ecosystem of farm and nonprofit partners. Before Spoiler Alert, farmers would need to take the time to call Healthy Acadia — or Hannah’s cell phone — with news of surplus food, and this didn’t always happen. This phone call most likely resulted in a voicemail, often missing the opportunity to gather more specific information about the product or volume available, which left Healthy Acadia with few details to play for volunteer coordination. Additionally, it is not always easy to get a busy farmer back on the phone, and if Hannah was out in the field gleaning, she risked missing the opportunity to pick up the available food.
THE RESULTS: 1,300 LBS. RECOVERED THROUGH IMPROVED COORDINATION
Using Spoiler Alert, local farmers post the surplus food they have available directly to Healthy Acadia through the platform. Hannah receives an email or a text message with a documented gleaning opportunity that she is able to promptly claim, plan for, and easily respond to arrange logistics. Based on the information provided on Spoiler Alert, Hannah can better coordinate her gleaning efforts. She knows how many crates to bring to the farm, what kind of quality control and storage to ensure, and the level of volunteer recruitment needed. The communication process is much more efficient, with some posts from farms claimed by Healthy Acadia in as little as 13 minutes, giving farmers the peace of mind knowing their food donation is being managed.
In addition to being a recipient of gleaned produce from farms, Healthy Acadia also acts as a supplier of that gleaned produce to a network of nonprofit partners. In this intermediary role, Hannah posts what is available for pick up and volunteers from nonprofits in the area can claim the amount of food they want in advance. The amount of available produce is updated in real-time so that the remaining volume for other organizations to claim is reflected. Hannah utilizes the partial claim feature of Spoiler Alert, which allows nonprofit recipients to claim a portion of the available food.
“SPOILER ALERT IS REPLACING THE PHONE CALL AND PROVIDING MORE INFORMATION IN A WAY THAT CAN BE REVISITED AND SHARED. THE INFORMATION CAN BE MANAGED AND FOOD RECOVERY CAN BE TRACKED.”
More than a dozen organizations have registered for Spoiler Alert through Healthy Acadia’s network, and Hannah has been able to recover 1,300 lbs. of gleaned produce and distribute it to community meal sites in the area. Additionally, Spoiler Alert has enabled Healthy Acadia to implement a winter food recovery program, which was nonexistent prior to their use of the platform. Due to decreased availability of gleaning opportunities, the winter months are typically spent on strategic planning and program development activities. But this year, thanks to Spoiler Alert, Healthy Acadia was able to maintain some food recovery activity.