Flash mob solution to crop surplus

If you called Nick Papadopoulos of Bloomfield Farms a visionary, a force of nature and a whirlwind of energy, you would be right on all counts.

In slightly more than a week, he has created a self-organizing distribution network that connects farms, including Bloomfield Farms where he is general manager, with individuals and hunger-relief organizations throughout Sonoma County.

The concept is simple. A lot of perishable food goes to waste and there are a lot of hungry people in Sonoma County. Why not connect the dots? That's just what Papadopoulos has done.

When Papadopoulos began working with Bloomfield Farms not quite a year ago, he saw immediately that an enormous amount of food was wasted. On an average day at a farmers market, for example, close to 30 percent of crops came back to the farm. Typically, these returns ended up in the compost.

This reality, combined with the knowledge that about 17 percent of Californians, most of them children, don't know where their next meal will come from, troubled Papadopoulos constantly. And like an oyster transforms an abrasive grain of sand into a beautiful pearl, Papadopoulos transformed his worry into an innovative distribution system that is already catching fire far beyond the borders of Sonoma County. He's had calls from farmers in four states and an organic farmer in Mexico interested in setting up similar systems in their communities.

Inspiration took hold in earnest last summer, when he was faced with forty cases of beautiful broccoli. He couldn't sell it and logistics made giving it away all but impossible. Eventually, Food For Thought was able to take eight cases; the rest went to compost, a loss that still hurts, Papadopoulos says.

Soon, he experimented, via Facebook, with what he calls a produce flash mob, offering $500 worth of produce to hunger-relief organization. Someone responded, offered $100 and distributed the produce to people in need.

"It hit me in the head like a cabbage," Papadopoulos says now, "that I could build a website to take this to a new level."

Two more Facebook flash mobs convinced him he was on to something. He contacted Joanna and Gary Cedar of presstree.com and after a three-day programming jam session, the trio launched cropmobster.com on March 24. Within about 12 hours of launch, a hundred hungry people had fresh produce in their kitchens.

In cropmobster's first week, four palettes -- that's about 240 cases -- of premium organic produce, 50 pounds of grass-fed beef, 200 pounds of seed potatoes and 500 plant starts have been distributed and have generated enough income to cover costs of production, an essential part of the equation.

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