Planting the Seed to Shock the System

According to Feeding America, the food insecurity rate among children in Peoria County is 15%. But luckily, Computer Science students at Bradley refuse to stand idly by, choosing instead to pour their skills into a solution that provides healthy produce to some of the almost 20,000 individuals facing food insecurity in our area.

It started with professor Tony Grichnik and the garden he keeps with his wife. When the pair decided to bring part of their harvest to a food bank, they were astounded at how quickly their fresh produce was snatched up. Pair that with a request from one of the customers for bok choy (a food they didn’t even know could grow in Peoria) and the similar rate at which it was claimed the next time they came in and the question became obvious: Why isn’t there a system in place to automate this?

When professor Grichnik brought the idea – Connect local food growers with food banks and their users – to his CS capstone students, they took the charge and ran with it. Now, PeoriaFresh is a fully functional website facilitating grower/consumer relationships all across town.

“We have huge demand. What we need is supply,” computer science senior and PeoriaFresh PR liaison Zach Swinford said. “We're trying to get a bunch of gardeners into the system. When the gardeners and the patrons come together to create that symbiotic relationship, that's really powerful and it grows our community too. It's not just about getting people fed, it's about getting people connected.”

These connections make a difference, as Swinford has witnessed firsthand.

“Those that have the power to affect change through technology should do so for good,” Swinford said. “I feel like that’s what we're doing here.”

Swinford and his team of computer science, interactive media and business students are the second generation of seniors to tackle the creation of PeoriaFresh, building upon the foundation of the previous years’ work. This year, in addition to numerous showcases at various food banks in town, they took the initiative to FUSE—the annual end-of-year technology showcase at the Peoria Riverfront Museum hosted by Bradley’s Interactive Media department.

“We had a noticeable uptick in traffic on the site after the event, and the trend is continuing to rise,” Swinford said. “We also got connected with local farmers who sometimes have too much harvested produce. Something we never realized is that a lot of farmers often set aside a good amount of produce specifically for donation, and they were very happy to have an outlet where they can see exactly what's needed where.”

Meanwhile, as Swinford and his team approach life post-graduation, the future of PeoriaFresh has never been brighter.

“We've got a roadmap through 2028 with milestones to hit every year,” Swinford said. “The one I'm most excited about is "CityFresh!" at the end of the roadmap. If the platform is successful, we plan to package it up and make it open-source so that it may be implemented by any university. This step is very important to us and, if we get there, it means our project has succeeded. As for who will continue to maintain the platform, our professor has volunteered for that role until the next seniors step up to the project. We're very excited to see what they bring!”

-Jenevieve Rowley-Davis

PeoriaFresh team member Brian Sida explains the benefits of using their platform to request produce for food banks