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September 08, 2021
over 50 red tomatoes in a pile
photo of Gary Oppenheimer in a garden Gary Oppenheimer

Growing food. It’s a family thing.

My grandfather was a farmer in Germany. As a child, my father grew food in a small garden behind our home in Yonkers NY.  Years later, while living on a houseboat in Manhattan, I grew and harvested eggplants in wooden ammunition boxes left over from the Korean war.

In 1998, we bought a home in rural Northern New Jersey, and I again tried my hand at gardening.  I had some success the first year and was determined to do better (especially at deterring deer).   Over time, I grew smarter and harvested more – so much so that I eventually ended up with far more than I could use. Not wanting to waste the food, along with admonitions from my family when I was a child (see the TEDx talk), was the beginning if my seeking a food program to take the surplus.

With some difficulty and despite being told I could not donate garden food (the “jars, cans boxes – no fresh food” mantra at food drives), I found a women’s shelter in my town in 2007 that eagerly accepted the garden surplus.  The women were thrilled to finally get fresh food, and that was the beginning of how I first learned about the lack of fresh food at America’s food programs. grew out of discussion I had at the local community garden I managed, which ultimately led me to an idea about how I could make a local solution work on a nationwide scale.

Two wonderful web designers volunteered to take my vision and make it a reality (America owes them both a deep debt of gratitude) and in May 2009, was launched.  Over the recent years, it became increasingly clear that a 2009 web site built for a desktop world was not really working all that well in an increasingly mobile device world, and that enhancements we wanted to add would require a whole new site.

Thanks to the partnership and financial support of Bonnie Plants and pro bono help from Matthew Karmel and Wendi Opper Uzar at Riker Danzig Scherer Hyland & Perretti LLP,  we hired an amazing women owned design firm named Studio Simpatico, that brought’s work, messaging and technology from 2009 to 2021.  And as part of that process, the AI folks at Deloitte helped “translate” many thousands of freestyle food pantry donation day/time records into a computer readable format.

We needed a site that would not only facilitate our work but could also better explain what actually does (people continued to assume that we’re a food bank or a gardening program – we’re not), make it work seamlessly on all platforms, and give it a totally fresh look.

The new site includes upgrades making it much easier for gardeners and food pantries, will set food pantry expectations by informing them of what’s being harvested in their region, improves our SEO to better leverage the AdWords support Google has provided for 12 years (thank you so very much!), supports our planned expansion into Indian Country, Puerto Rico and the territories, and helps us better document our reach and impact.  It also dramatically improves the donation process from our wonderful supporters.

Their team and ours put about five person years of energy into the project and the new site launched without a hitch.

As all this started with donating my surplus harvest to a local woman’s shelter in 2007, it seemed fitting to me that the relaunch should again start with sharing my ample harvest with them.

And this past weekend, I did.

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