Every Wednesday afternoon, Rebecca Matthews sets up on the picnic tables in front of Malcolm X Elementary School in Berkeley, California. She unloads bags of local, organic groceries–on this particular September day, about 90 in total–so parents can easily grab them while picking up their kids.
Meet the new school fundraising model. It requires no cash and no slaving over an oven. For some, bake sales have become a passé way to raise funds for electives and extracurriculars and a growing number of schools are going on diets, replacing brownies and cookies with broccoli and kale.
A marketplace New York and northern California residents use to buy groceries from local farms, Farmigo (pronounced like amigo) began its school fundraising program about a year ago, donating 10% of proceeds, or about $30,000 to date, to schools. Parents place their orders online over the weekend, and later in the week the startup delivers groceries from farms (which receive 60% to 70% of the revenue) to various pick-up locations, such as workplaces, community centers, homes, and schools. Because anyone within Farmigo’s delivery range can create a new pick-up site with a minimum of 10 orders, the school fundraising program also helps the startup build momentum.
So far, Farmigo counts about 40 schools in its fundraising program. Founder Benzi Ronen said the company plans to add another 100 schools as it expands to five new regions, which have not been announced yet, and raise $300,000 this school year. In addition to weekly grocery pickups, Farmigo also organizes occasional farm field trips and tastings at school events to connect students and parents with their food.
With affluent households willing to pay a little extra for quality food, the community at Berkeley is an ideal fit for Farmigo. Alice Waters, owner of Chez Panisse restaurant, is famous for bringing the organic and local food movement to the Bay Area in the 1970s, and many parents at Malcolm X said they shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and local grocery chain Berkeley Bowl.
Matthews jump-started the program at Malcolm X last year, thinking it would be a good way to contribute to the school while getting to know fellow parents. When her daughter Maisy enrolled in kindergarten last year, Matthews didn’t know anyone at the school. The mom of two initially faced some skepticism from the Parent Teacher Association when she proposed raising funds with Farmigo. But her grassroots outreach–flyers, email newsletters, and tastings–helped bring in $2,700 to the school’s coffers last year. “I can’t write a check to the school for $2,700,” she told Fast Company. “[But] we have a huge community of involved families who take on so much.” This year, as a member of the PTA board, Matthews wants to increase Farmigo’s presence, get more parents to join, and double the amount raised. In the first month of school, the program has already brought in $660.
“The quality is so much better than Whole Foods,” said Peter Koshland, whose 8-year-old and 5-year-old are enrolled at Malcolm X. On this sunny day, his bags are filled with kale, milk, cheese, and bread. The midweek pickup supplements grocery shopping on the weekends, but he said the challenge is remembering to place his order Sunday night. Other parents, however, cited convenience as one of the most appealing aspects of Farmigo, since they’re at school to pick up their kids anyway.
Anna Butterworth, whose 7-year-old and 5-year-old are enrolled at Malcolm X, raved about the selection, especially milk from organic dairy brand Straus Family Creamery. “We have to go around town to get it,” she said, also picking up pastured lamb for a Libyan stew with chickpeas and couscous she planned to make. “Some of the products you can get here very conveniently. I’d rather do that then drive around five different stores,” she added.
Though the funds raised at Malcolm X go back into its general fund, some schools are using the proceeds to boost their gardening programs. At Madera Elementary, the $700 Farmigo helped raise went to what gardening coordinator Molly Wahl calls the outdoor classroom. “It’s great hands-on science instruction,” said Wahl. The school used the money to purchase supplies–such as jars, herbs, and oils–which the students use to create handmade products, including lavender body oil or salt scrubs, with ingredients from the garden. These products can be found at farmers markets hosted several times a year by the school. At Brookside Elementary School, the $750 raised last year–along with an additional $5,000 kicked in from the school–helped move a garden from the center of campus to make way for new classrooms. T
The benefits aren’t just monetary. For Matthews, the parent coordinator at Malcolm X, another big appeal was getting to be part of a community. To accommodate parents’ busy schedules, she opens up her home–conveniently located four houses away–as an alternate pickup location from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Outside of school staff, she’s become one of the most recognizable faces on campus. “It’s become fun to do,” said Matthews, who is regularly stopped by passing parents saying hi. “It’s like going to a party and everyone knows [each other].”