For Alyssa Snyder, Margaret Thomas and Aron Shelton, flipping through photographs from the past four years serves as a reminder of just how far a single idea can evolve. And how a few people can contribute to raising the quality of life for many.
Their idea – Seeds That Feed, a Fayetteville, Arkansas-based organization committed to collecting and distributing fresh produce to those who need it – began with the desire to be a part of something that mattered in their community.
“Food banks need more fresh fruits and vegetables,” Snyder explained. “I thought back to growing up in a neighborhood with huge gardens and how people were always sharing bags of fresh vegetables they had grown. So we asked ourselves, what if we started an organization that asked Fayetteville residents with gardens to plant an extra row of seeds for us?”
Only, they never had to make that request, because they realized the network of farmers participating in the Fayetteville Farmers Market was an existing resource with a surplus of fruits and vegetables. After every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday market on the town’s downtown square, surplus produce was usually lugged back home and fed to livestock, or composted unnecessarily. So Seeds That Feed set out to coordinate with farmers to collect surplus to help stock the shelves of a local food bank.
Their first collection yielded a modest 35 pounds. But by the end of the first season, the organization was gathering up to 600 pounds of fresh produce in a given day, which was eclipsed by a record 772 pounds following a Tuesday market earlier this summer. Over the past four years, Seeds That Feed has grown to collaborate with a network of more than 40 growers at the Fayetteville Farmers Market and across the region, delivering more than 47,000 pounds of donated produce to more than 25 programs and organizations across the region.
“I remember getting on my phone the first time we hit 600 pounds and literally calling every food bank we could think of because we had more produce than just one could handle,” Shelton said. “Our idea had started to take on a life of its own.”
Through a recent grant from the Walmart Foundation, Seeds That Feed expanded its reach even further with the launch of its Mobile Food Network in July, including a mobile produce pantry. The pantry – a repurposed box truck retrofitted to bring a fresh market to low-income housing complexes, local churches and service organizations – offers free produce to food-insecure segments of the community. In addition, Seeds That Feed has begun assembling “cookboxes,” food packaged with recipe cards, to enable patrons to utilize donated produce to develop healthy meals.
“The Mobile Food Pantry really is like a dream come true,” Thomas said. “It's so far beyond anything we ever imagined this organization could become, and these farmers have become like family to us along the way. It's an amazing collaboration. When an 80-year-old woman talks about what it's like to eat fresh tomatoes for the first time since she was a kid, it motivates you to keep wanting to reach more people.”
And that’s precisely what Seeds That Feed plans to continue doing.
“Something as simple as having a meal with your family can change your day, and we’re working to make things like that possible every day,” Snyder said. “We’re proud of what this organization has become. It has all come together from learnings – and the beautiful thing is that it can all be replicated.”