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Partnerships for Innovation: Food Cowboy

Recently, I shared a story about public and private sector partnerships that are delivering innovation and service. Unfortunately, the media tends to focus on the problems that can occur with public-private partnerships, instead of the incredible potential. With that in mind, I came across this story on National Public Radio about a struggling D.C.-based charitable start-up and wanted to share it with the GovLoop community. The support of a government agency could mean the difference between the start-up’s failure and a successful way to fight hunger.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), 40% of food grown in the United States goes uneaten and wasted. According to D.C. Hunger, 37% of households in Washington DC struggle to afford enough food to feed their children, the worst rate in the nation. Food Cowboy is trying to reconcile these two troubling statistics.

Connecting truck drivers, food delivery services, local businesses, and charities through a website, Food Cowboy takes edible food that would have been thrown away and diverts it to hunger relief groups. NPR reports, “Food Cowboy makes money by taking a small commission from their transactions. For 10 cents a pound, a food bank can buy as much from Food Cowboy as they can store.” Co-founder of Food Cowboy Roger Gordon was inspired to take on this work after his brother, a truck driver, told him about how often he simply throws away boxes of food because the product is not aesthetically pleasing to retailers or because the food is perishable and there is no room for it in the store.

Since their “soft launch,” Food Cowboy has been able to donate nearly 300,000 pounds of food to charities, food that would have been thrown away. Yet, the small start-up is struggling to overcome obstacles. When NPR interviewed the founder, he admitted, “It has been difficult to get food retailers on board. Many are concerned they'll be blamed if someone gets sick and even though there is a federal tax credit, the financial incentive may not be enough to sway them. Another major hurdle is convincing food charities to have flexible hours to receive a load on a trucker's 24/7 schedule. Dumpsters are always open. And there are more Dumpsters than food banks," Gordon said.

With so many government agencies dedicated to helping the hungry, is there a potential public sector partnership here? What do you all think?

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