4MyCiTy is a Maryland-based non-profit that’s revolutionizing the way people view food waste and reducing the negative effects it has on our planet.
In the wake of COVID-19, one in six Americans face food insecurity. That’s up 46% from before the pandemic and according to Feeding America, that includes as many as 18 million kids.
The pandemic has altered life all around us and has revealed how fragile our food system is today. At Gotham Greens, our mission has always been to transform how and where fresh produce is grown. Now more than ever, we are committed to providing nourishing produce to people when it’s needed most. Since early March, Gotham Greens has provided over 200,000 lbs. of produce to non-profits, community leaders and food banks.
Our friends at 4MyCiTy, a Maryland based non-profit, are focused on revolutionizing the way people view food waste. Food distribution and community service are at the forefront of 4MyCiTy’s mission. Given the recent spike in need, founder & CEO Chris Dipnarine has drastically scaled up his operations (which is 100% run by volunteers!) In July alone, 4MyCiTy distributed 7.5 million pounds of food to their local community. When they’re not out moving pallets of food and driving trucks to community food pantries, Chris and his team can be found educating their community on the importance of reducing food waste at various stages along the supply chain.
Check out our interview with Chris, and tune in here for a glimpse into how his team is bringing food (and smiles) to communities across Maryland and beyond.
Can you tell us a little about 4MyCiTy?
Chris: We are a four-phase sustainability program (hence the “4”) focused on food waste reduction, and redistributing the extra to the community. Phase 1 is educating companies, organizations and communities about food waste. Phase 2 is taking any extra food we can recover, and redistributing to families in need. Phase 3 is our line of fully biodegradable products that we distribute to reduce plastic waste in our communities. And phase 4 is focused on composting. Anything that we cannot distribute to farms or families, we take to compost sites to turn it back into the soil.
How did you get started and what inspired you to begin this project?
Chris: Food waste is something I’ve studied for a long time. A friend of mine, Matt Burke, ran a program called Food Rescue Baltimore. He’s been in it for about 8 years and we’ve gone back and forth in that time on what food waste is, and its reduction. I probably talked his ear off. About 2 years ago I decided to launch 4MyCiTy, with a larger scope. I wanted to create a more detailed program about food waste with an educational platform to educate businesses. That’s where I saw the lack of involvement – from the manufacturing side. As time progressed, we started seeing more need. The more food we rescued, the more demand we had. We thought, how do we shift from the educational side, and more to the distribution side?
How have things shifted since COVID-19 hit in mid-March?
Chris: When COVID-19 hit, everything really skyrocketed. Families were out of work, and there were businesses that had to get rid of food. We reached out to hotels, distributors and food organizations and began partnering with them. We were lucky to get partnered with the USDA Farm Box Program. That helped us connect with more producers and organizations – like Gotham Greens who reached out to me on Instagram wanting to share their product with us. It’s been a long journey and we’re constantly looking for ways to get better and reach more people.
Tell us about your ties to Baltimore and Maryland.
Chris: I grew up in the Caribbean and moved here in 1998 from Trinidad and Tobago. Baltimore has been my home ever since. I’ve seen Baltimore in the good times, and the bad times. It’s a great city that is very diverse. When I moved here in 1998, the city was very welcoming to me and I’ve been able to have successful businesses here, and in the Parkside Communities (one of the largest, but also most impoverished areas). When I launched 4MyCiTy, my goal was to put healthy food in the hands of people. That’s been our Achilles heel as a community– access to healthy foods. There is a big price difference between healthy food, and fast/processed food. When you’re able to put fruits and vegetables into communities that have struggled with access, it’s a great feeling. I think we’re changing the pendulum on access to food, and people’s view on eating and living healthier.
What does a typical day look like for you and your volunteers?
Chris: A typical day is nonstop. We start distribution at 8AM and usually go to about 4-5PM. Our food rescue operations run 24/7. We’re always on call if a distributor, hotel or anyone has food for us to pick up – it’s a constant search. Our team is loading trucks every day, and while they work, I drive my truck around picking up bread, milk, cheese – whatever it is we can get. During COVID it’s been nonstop, every day. It’s been a grind, but when you see smiling faces and families with food in their hands, it’s rewarding.
On the flip side, when you see sites with long lines, we get more energized to go back out and hunt for ways to reduce food waste. To me, it’s a grind but it’s 100% worth it especially knowing we’re giving them a healthier lifestyle.
What have you learned in the past few months of operating?
Chris: I think the biggest thing is really community involvement, and love – the response and the positivity. Last month we delivered 7.5 million pounds of food, and all of it was accomplished because of the hard work of volunteers. Everything is 100% volunteers.
When you think pandemic, you think people won’t want to support or come together. That’s been the biggest surprise, we have over 300 organizations that partner with us and every single one brings volunteers. They bring food, cake, and it’s an enjoyable atmosphere with music and smiles.
It’s a lot of hard work – these guys show up from 6-7AM to help us unload trucks. Then they go back into their communities to give out 800-900 boxes of food with their own vehicles, money and resources.
That’s been the biggest surprise, seeing how well everyone came together to really support our cause and make this thing happen. It’s been rewarding to see how much people really care about their fellow neighbors.
What has been the most gratifying result of your work?
Chris: The ability to provide food and resources for people. To get people more excited about living a healthier lifestyle. With fresh fruits and vegetables, people are excited for it! People want it. The number one thing you always hear is cost – eating healthy costs a lot of money, and it shouldn’t. From the amount of food wasted, it’s a lot that can be diverted. For us to be able to divert 50 million pounds of food in the last couple of months has been a huge inspiration to me. The sky’s the limit for us. Our goal is to continue growing the initiative: look for a bigger space, work with more organizations, grow our reach within the communities to provide a healthier lifestyle for our food insecure neighbors.
What are your goals for 4MyCiTy?
Chris: Reduce food waste and end hunger – that’s the bottom line. But we do want to grow to different cities and empower more people to do what we’re doing. We want to teach people and empower other organizations to start a program like ours. The goal for us is really to boost the level of education.
How can people help the Baltimore community, and support your work?
Chris: Help connect us with resources – that’s the easiest way to help us grow. Gotham Greens found us on social media from a post we shared! The more people share our name, we may be able to reach more distributors and organizations that are willing to donate. Food is our biggest need. The more we can rescue the more we can divert. If you know farms, distributors, restaurants or anyone that could donate, help reach out on our behalf!
And donate. We are 100% volunteer run, but a lot of our expenses are operational: forklifts, trucks, gas, supplies and PPE. That’s where your donations go. Every dime goes back into the operation.
Given current pressures on the food system, one thing is clear, the importance of strengthening and decentralizing our country’s food systems. Our new Baltimore greenhouse reimagines a portion of the former Bethlehem Steel Mill in Sparrows Point. Read more about this adaptive reuse project here.
Chris Dipnarine is the founder & CEO of 4MyCiTy.