LemonGRAFT is a digital marketplace for buying local, fresh, food from neighbors. As How I Built this Host Guy Raz describes it: “…something like Air B&B or Uber,” but instead of a place to stay or a ride being the commodity, homegrown food is what is bought and sold.
A backyard vegetable garden or fruit tree can be a source of extra money for growers, but most don’t have enough surplus to sell to grocers and don’t have the time to set up a stall at a farmer’s market. Meanwhile, thousands of local families struggle with food insecurity and access to healthy, fresh, food. Through lemonGRAFT, anyone can sign up as a Grower with as little as one plant, post what they want to sell on the lemonGRAFT site for free – even before its harvested – and when it’s sold, they deliver the produce to a Host location or “lemon drop” where the buyer picks it up. lemonGRAFT keeps a percentage of the sale price, of which the Host gets a portion, and the Grower keeps the rest.
Tampa’s Uptown Innovation Quarter has a Host at the AMRoC Fab Lab, which is located at RITHM@Uptown (a.k.a. University Mall).
“LemonGRAFT aligns beautifully with our own mission of helping people build agency through personal empowerment and localized sustainable economic development,” said AMRoC Fab Lab Executive Director, Terri Willingham. “Partnering with food security, urban agriculture and sustainability programs complete the innovation education circle putting science, technology, education and manufacturing in its rightful context of creating healthy communities at all levels.”
Shoppers simply visit the web site and enter the name of what they want, such as carrots or celery in the browse window and a list of that item is presented with prices, pictures, and a location where they will be picked up.
The lemonGRAFT digital marketplace supports sustainability by decentralizing the food supply chain, cutting down on transportation impacts of shipping food long distances, increases local biodiversity, and generates income for community members rather than sending profits elsewhere. Company founder, Zachary Correa has seen first hand how much of an impact the marketplace can have.
While I was hosting a lemonDROP, a woman came up to me, seeing that we had seed packets on the table. I told her she could help herself and that they were free if she signed up on lemonGRAFT.com. After explaining what the project was, her eyes widened, as a realization came over her. She told me she was going to use lemonGRAFT to make a difference in her community and to feed the children and teach them how to feed each other. I offered to help her plant her seeds and get her all set up, so she invited me to her home which was in a very rough part of town. She experienced frequent theft and her home had recently been horribly vandalized and broken. She was out of work, and unable to get a job. Originally from the Caribbean, she spoke with a thick accent, as she explained to me how she was trying to raise money to repair her home, but was struggling to get work. That was when she gave me a tour of her backyard which had an enormous mango tree in it. “Wow!” I reacted, asking her if it had fruited yet.
The woman told Correa she had hundreds and what felt like a thousand mangos last season, so many that she couldn’t get rid of them fast enough.
I asked her if she knew how expensive mangos were at the market…she shrugged. I told her, “If you were to successfully sell your mangoes on lemonGRAFT, you’d have close to a thousand dollars in sales!” Her eyes widened as she began to understand the difference this could make in her life. She was sitting on an asset that was underutilized all this time. I looked around the rest of her backyard and saw that there was this weed everywhere, hundreds of them, maybe more, covering the ground. I asked her what that weed was, and she said, “that’s not a weed, those are mango seedlings, the squirrels take the seeds and plant them in the ground for me, it’s like a mango factory back here! Haha!” I asked her if she would consider selling her seedlings and after looking it up, discovered she could sell them for about $25 each. Her eyes widened even more as she turned to look at the house, realizing she might finally have a path to repair her broken home.
Even in it’s early stage of development the concept is so innovative and demonstrates such potential that founder Zachary Correa was selected as for NPRs 2021 How I Built This Fellowship where it was one of ten startups in the running for a $50,000 grant. A map feature that will make it easier for users to discover the food in their own community is in development as lemonGRAFT adds Growers, Hosts, and Buyers. As lemonGRAFT grows they are already expanding to communities outside of Tampa Bay and spreading better health and sustainability to even more neighborhoods.