As we all have seen in the past year, the pandemic has exacerbated the gaps in the food system. Monika Owczarski, the founder of Sweet Tooth Farm’s Community Fridge, saw those gaps expand when organizations serving hot meals in her neighborhood hit a pause. At first, Owsczarski and her neighbors met that need by cooking and serving meals out of their own kitchens.
“Eat Greater Des Moines was incredibly supportive in assistance with providing food rescue to my neighborhood,” said Owvzarski. “I’m a huge believer in the idea that fresh quality food should not be a luxury item, which with a lot of the farm-to-table movement, it is. Ultimately, feeding people is something that aligned Eat Greater Des Moines and me.”
After connecting with EGDM, Owsczarski listened to a podcast about community fridges popping up around the world and reached out to Aubrey Alvarez, the Executive Director of EGDM about the possibility of starting her own.
“I remember texting Aubrey and being so excited about what possibilities this could bring for Des Moines and the world at large,” said Owscarski. “There were some folks, in the neighborhood and some circles that I was in, that helped light the fire. After many different conversations, I decided to just try it”
With funds raised for purchasing equipment for partners, Eat Greater Des Moines donated a fridge to Owscarski in November 2020.
Add in the help of neighbors and family to build the foundation and shelter for the fridge, Sweet Tooth Farm’s community fridge was established and ready for the community to use. Owczarski notes that the cost of starting a community fridge is hard to define and the process of establishing one can look different for everyone.
“I would say, before you figure out any concrete details about getting the fridge, putting up the fridge, or building the structure, you need to figure out if your block is a good block for one –– not in terms of need, but in terms of your neighbors,” said Owczarski. “To me, mutual aid and community cannot happen if your surrounding community is not on board.”
After launching the fridge, Owscarski says she has seen community be fostered in many ways. She notes that there is a real way that people who see the fridge as a resource feel a sense of community ownership and protection to ensure that it stays.
“The process has become very hands-off for me. On our Facebook page, I have seen both donators and utilizers of the fridge hop on the page defending and supporting people for taking what they need. People are seeing and learning by watching, which is very cool to me. I’ve also seen the fridge as a resource for people to get food out to other places.”
Owczarski continues to learn every day how to make Sweet Tooth Community Fridge easily accessible and safe for all. The addition of a raspberry pi, a credit-card-sized computer inside the fridge, has allowed Owscarski to monitor the utilization of the fridge by donors and users and track temperature for the food donated.
Aside from the community fridge, Owscarski established an urban farm next to her house in 2017, making this summer the 5th year in full production. She also recently co-founded the Heart of Des Moines Farmers’ Market that allows people to use SNAP, EBT, DUFB to access healthy produce.
“If you want to be something, just start being it. I used to be a social worker who is now an accidental farmer. I’ve watched a lot of YouTube videos, read a lot of books, and asked a ton of questions. I’ve messed up a lot but you don’t know what you don’t know until you try.”
Community fridges are lifelines for the neighborhoods that they serve. Sweet Tooth Farm’s Community Fridge is open 24/7 with no restrictions on who can take food or how much. Look to see what community fridges are near you and how you can play an active part in donating to that community fridge. If you do not have the resources to provide food, consider supporting community fridges by participating in routine cleaning of the fridges. If you are looking for a fridge near you, take a look at this full listing of community fridge locations across the world.