ELYRIA, Ohio — It all started with a sentence for Rachel Gonzales, “I want to grow food.”
Gonzales, co-owner and manager of Fifth Acres Farms, located in Vermilion, Ohio, added, “And I don’t want anyone to experience food insecurity.”
Gonzales is referring to her relationship with the free refrigerator, or “Freedge,” in Elyria. It’s the first of its kind in the region, and her produce goes directly to people in need.
The Freedge aims to reduce food insecurity and food waste in communities all over the world. The movement promotes equal access to healthy food through public refrigerators that are used to share fresh food, fruits and vegetables.
The movement is relatively new with the first community fridges appearing in 2016 in Europe. It became a worldwide effort, according to Julie Piazza-King, who oversees the Elyria Freedge. The movement has grown rapidly in recent years because of the pandemic, with over 1,000 community fridges operating in Europe, Canada and the United States.
Community fridges are located in public spaces, such as parks, libraries and community centers. Most of the food has been donated by individuals, businesses and restaurants, and anyone can take food from a community fridge, regardless of their income or social status. There is no bureaucratic process involved.
The Freedge movement’s intention is to reduce food waste and promote sustainability. Gonzales says Fifth Acre Farms is in its first year of operation and is committed to delivering 30 pounds of fresh produce a week. She believes the Freedge movement is innovative and is likely to continue to play a role in addressing food issues in the years to come.
Gonzales grew up in abject poverty and hopes to have some community impact with her commitment. She acknowledges that the Freedge doesn’t solve food insecurity or food waste, but every little bit helps.
First in Ohio.
The Lorain community Freedge, called the Pioneer Freedge, was the first one in Ohio, Piazza-King said. It started out as a community service project and has grown into a major source of assistance. The Pioneer Freedge is located in the South Branch of the Elyria Public Library, and anyone can drop off or take food during normal library hours six days a week.
One initiative of the Freedge movement is to start your own. The international organization will walk you through the process and list the Freedge on their website.
The organization suggests you find a location with high community activity and electricity, then find a commercial refrigerator with glass doors so people can see what is inside.
If the Freedge is outside, a shelter must cover it and bolt it down. According to the Freedge website, this investment for the community shouldn’t cost more than $1,000. The Freedge will need to be checked daily to keep it clean and maintain it. There is a food safety guide as well as possible funding through the nonprofit ChangeX (changex.org/us/communityfridge). The Pioneer Freedge found funding through crowdfunding from In Our Own Backyard, or ioby.org for short.
Piazza-King points out that the Freedge doesn’t require a large staff, while volunteers can drop off food donations at their own convenience, and since the fridge operates 24/7, there are typically no long lines of people. Everyone in the community can get involved, from local food retailers and supermarkets to community groups or charities that cook meals. She is excited to have Fifth Acre Farms as a local contributor and wants to continue to receive referrals.
Food insecurity in south Elyria is very high, Piazza-King said, and many residents don’t have reliable transportation, so grocery shopping is difficult; however, people are able to walk to the library.
Gonzales believes that in a truly sustainable system, organically grown food must be accessible to everyone, “not just those that can afford to pay an inflated sticker price.”
Gonzalez views it as a partnership and an opportunity to get produce to the dinner tables of Elyria families who might not otherwise have access.
(Reporter Nella Citino can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 323-643-2353.)
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