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I Get Around – Mayya Husseini

In this issue we continue our regular ‘I get around’ series. Every month, Association members will tell stories of where they are, what they are doing, who they have met, and why they believe or hope they are doing valuable work. This month we have Mayya Husseini, about her views and experiences as a beginner public health nutritionist in Barcelona.

Barcelona. Hit the reset button, 2014 is finally here and brimming with optimism I find, in spite of the darker global projections. I don’t know about you, but for many of those around me (including myself), 2013 was a year of tough love and hard lessons learned. But despite the harsher times of the last year, I had been blessed with the meeting and connecting with some amazing people both in person and electronically through my digging to uncover the world of food waste. Oxford Dictionary, brace yourself as I have two new words worth officially recognising this year: CropMobster™ and Disco Soup.

Around mid-November, I was lucky enough to be put in contact with one very wise lady who connected with my innate desire for a better world free of food waste and has since earned the title of my Food Waste Fairy Godmother. It was through correspondence with Food Waste Fairy Godmother Z that I was introduced to CropMobster™ (definition for crop mob) and its full-of-life co-founder & CEO, Nick Papadopoulos. CropMobster™, for those who have yet to hear of it, lend me your eyes so I can fill you in on a great food-waste-fighting tool making waves in 12 counties (and counting…) all the way over in the sunny state of California. This past Holiday season, Nick kindly set aside some time to meet me on Skype as I was more than keen to hear all about the birth of CropMobster™, how it was doing and where it was heading. This is how the story goes:

A couple years back, Nick was asked to take over managing his family farm and after several years in business consulting, he decided to take on the position at one of the toughest times for farmers in the 21st century. The moment of realisation about the graveness of food waste came to him while in their farm cooler fridge one afternoon where, expecting it to find it empty, he instead saw some 15 boxes of unsold, organic produce all staring back at him. It dawned on him that for the past 12 months, he had been witnessing this nutritious, first-class produce being passed on for use as chicken feed and compost instead of reaching people’s stomachs as was intended. Saddened by this fact, he knew in his “heart, soul and mind” that there had to be another way. It was this very event that triggered a public post on Facebook to his community telling them frankly about their dilemma where their “love for growing food as well as money was going down the tube” and how their chickens earned the nickname of the ‘one percenters’ all because of how well they were being fed. He propositioned a deal to charge only the base price for the produce to anybody willing to drive out to their farm, pick up the boxes and find the produce a new home. A mere 45 minutes later, he received a text from a mother in a neighbouring community saying “I’m in!” and the rest is history.

Having felt the positive impact social media can have on the local community first hand, Nick was inspired by the win-win result of the operation to keep it going. It is this kind of re-wiring in a community that encourages a better functioning local food system. Farmers were able to recover costs & increase their visibility, new friends were made in the community and the community received great value food while being actively involved in the solution to their local food waste issue. What Nick had seen happen on the food waste scene in his local context opened his eyes to the alarming reality of what is also happening on a global scale currently. With his recent results from transforming a loss into an even bigger win for all, the man was now on a mission…

crobmobster model

The CropMobster™ model directly connecting the community with local food producers (image sourced from CropMobster™ website)

On March 24th 2013, Nick launched the CropMobster™ website with the help of his two friends and fellow co-founders, Joanna & Gary, as well as his wife, Jess. The website is a platform that turns ‘food waste into food value’ through an online alert system via social media where food donations, deals, trades, wanted requests and even gleaning opportunities are posted. This connection between farmers and their local community is key to encouraging the consumption of locally sourced produce as well as the reduction of food waste. I was very happy to hear the success they are experiencing with this venture, getting international press coverage and even making Time magazine last November. It’s all the more impressive when you realise that they’ve managed to achieve all of this so far while holding down full-time jobs and bootstrapping their working space to a old turkey barn! Nick calculates that more than 100,000 lbs (over 45,000 kg) of produce has been saved from being wasted through CropMobster™. It has to be said that in just under a year of operation, that is one heck of a figure!

Nick hard at work in the retired turkey barn turned CropMobster™ office (image sourced from CCTV News)

Nick hard at work in the retired turkey barn turned CropMobster™ office
(image sourced from CCTV News)

For me, though, the greatest victory is their online publishing of impact stories to let all those current and soon-to-be Crop Mobsters see exactly what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. The kind of people that celebrate each success story, no matter how wacky or small, by seeing the beauty in the details of every story and honour them instead of treating them as another commodity transaction are my kind of people! One of my favourites being the story of a non-profit farm that grows produce exclusively for their local food bank posting a CropMobster™ Wanted alert requesting to borrow a tractor for some tilling work. They definitely got more than they’d bargained for when the funds for a new tractor of their own were donated to the farm. A fine example of “awesomeness generation” as Nick likes to call it! With their relatively open-net starting approach, they are constantly discovering new & creative uses of the tool that CropMobster™ represents as well as being quicker to recognise when challenges present themselves and where operational improvements are needed.

The entire conversation with Nick was nothing short of fruitful. Under circumstances like these, I still find it incredible that we can find and connect with the like-minded in today’s world; even if they’re half way around the globe in a completely different time zone. With the simple click of a few buttons combined with an Internet connection, we were able to bridge the geographical distances and come close enough to build the foundations of a global community. While we reach more and thus can achieve more with a global community, we have even more ground to cover, so we definitely have our work cut out for us here. For example, for the donation component to work in other parts of the world, food donations need to be legalised as they are in the US (courtesy of the Bill Emerson Good Samaritan Food Donation Act of 1996 that allows donor liability only in cases of gross negligence). Most parts of the world are still operating under strict black & white legislation and it’s only a matter of time before our current multi-crisis-stricken situation calls for a re-evaluation to include a few shades of acceptable grey areas that are already in play, in the name of curbing the rising hunger levels and paradoxical food waste figures in both the developing and the developed world.

They came. They gleaned. They conquered! (image sourced from CropMobster™ Facebook page)

They came. They gleaned. They conquered!
(image sourced from CropMobster™ Facebook page)

What now for CropMobster™ you ask? Well, they’ve only just got the ball rolling with this movement and are working on their next generation website to be launched soon as well as a mobile application in the pipeline – so make sure you save some space in that smartphone of yours (or consider getting one if you don’t already!). I’m happy to say that my Food Waste Extended Family seems to be growing quite fast and I look forward to it extending even further in 2014. Want to join our food waste fighting family? All you gotta do is say the word!

Barcelona’s very first Disco Soup

Saturday Night Food Waste Fever! (Images sourced from own collection and ifeel maps)

Saturday Night Food Waste Fever!
(Images sourced from own collection and ifeel maps)

By absolute chance (and also in November now that I come to think of it – what a good month that was!), I met one of the organisers, Justine, behind the first Disco Soup event in Barcelona at a dinner event promoting the consumption of organic and local foods. Disco Soup = a food waste awareness campaign with food collected that would have otherwise gone to waste, washed/pealed/chopped/cooked by all the attendees to later enjoy a soupy feast + funky disco music in the background to groove to! I have to credit the Youth Slow Food Network in Germany for planting the first seed for this fun initiative back in 2012.

I first heard about a Disco Soup happening in Paris around the same time I went on my dumpster diving adventure and was excited to hear that events like this were reaching the masses in a more generally acceptable style. So when Justine told me about the event, I immediately cut her off unable to contain my enthusiasm and told her that I was more than willing to help out should they need an extra pair of hands or even if they could just let me tag along for the ride!

Thinking that for sure I’d scared her off with my keenness, my zeal was restored when I got an e-invitation to join the next organisers meeting. Over breakfast in a busy neighbourhood café, I met with the team of four dynamic youngsters and brought myself up to speed as they discussed the final event planning details only to be met with some last minute hesitation and drop outs from some collaborating organisations. We pooled our time & resources over the next four following days in the run up to the event day and together built what we were later told by the attending Feeding The 5000 representative, Niki, to be one of the most successful Disco Soup debut events she’d seen so far. We were over the moon being just 4.5 people as part of the core organising team and after having had a fantastic time ourselves despite the challenging role as event hosts.

Over those manic five days, we worked side by side and got through all the last minute obstacles thrown at us with nothing more than a few minor muscle aches from all the produce box lifting and funky disco dancing! We had a great turnout with some 200 people of all ages & walks of life making it out to the event to prep, cook & eat over 50 kg worth of food. We even got a visit from a local TV station’s filming crew! The food was delicious and this was the result of the eagerness of all the participants to actively take part, listen to the food waste talks we had lined up for them and break it down in dance at the end of the night. Plus, we sure couldn’t go wrong with all the talent we had in the kitchen! People’s reactions to the event were absolutely inspired and definitely contributed to the night’s great energy.

By the time we had to say goodbye, nobody wanted to leave and everybody was asking about when the next one would be. Still coming off the natural high of the night’s experience, all we could really tell them was to stay tuned! It was an absolute pleasure to be a part of such an important feel-good anti-food waste awareness campaign and meet Justine, Eva, Andreas, Jesse and Niki through it. If you hear of a Disco Soup happening near you or even want to set one up in your own town or city – go for it! I can tell you, you won’t wanna miss it!

The views expressed here are those of the authors and should not be taken to be those of the Association.

Would you like to send feedback to Mayya? Leave a comment here, or write to her.

If you are an Association member and would like to write columns to the I Get Around series, contact us.

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