Throughout the first two years of Growing Connections workshops and community outreach, there was a frequent request for an online communication portal that would both facilitate and streamline connections between growers and food programs. Since an important part of the Growing Connections program is to provide requested and useful resources to partners, the team took this idea to heart and considered what it would take to implement. The Growing Connections team knew the endeavor would take a group of passionate volunteers to get the website developed, designed, and launched. Luckily, they found an opportunity to explore this project in October 2016 when they submitted a proposal to Seattle GiveCamp, a national weekend hackathon. Their proposal outlined an idea for an online produce marketplace and communications hub that would be promoted to Northwest Harvest partner programs in counties in which Growing Connections had been active, and was accepted as a project. Over the course of that weekend in October, and during the next few months, the Growing Connections team worked closely with volunteer developers to build the Produce Portal, which is now available to eight counties throughout Washington state.
The most important element in developing the site was to effectively turn the desires the Growing Connections team had heard in conversations into an interactive, appealing, and easy to use online platform. This meant the team was constantly asking for feedback from members on the site, and from organizations with which they work closely. While the site is still in its initial launch phase, the feedback that was received during the 2017 outreach campaign will hopefully make the site into what Growing Connections participants had originally imagined. As of winter 2018, the site will include the following functionalities:
For groups outside Washington state that might be interested in creating their own website, the code associated with Northwest Harvest's Produce Portal is available on GitHub, an online code repository. To find our profile, you can search NW-Harvest/NWHarvest. If you're working or volunteering with an organization that does not have the capability (or the financial resources) to either develop a site internally, or hire a developer to create the site, there are many organizations and individuals that are interested in using their coding, web development, and web design skills for good. One umbrella organization that has hackathons across the U.S. is Code for America, which works on a variety of projects. You can visit their site to see if your community has a local branch, or see if other branches are working on projects that might have open source code available on GitHub that you could use. If you're in the Seattle area, Open Seattle is a meetup group that gathers every month to work on existing projects, and to help new projects get off the ground. A member of the Growing Connections team went to an Open Seattle meeting and pitched the Produce Portal to bring a new volunteer developer onto their team to help with website updates.