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The Ol' College Try



During the past year, Taylor Behmke spent much of his free time launching and then implementing a produce-buying club at a church in Trenton, N.J. After those efforts proved fruitful, he now has his sights set on starting a similar effort at a nearby elementary school.

Oh, and by the way, Behmke hasn’t graduated college yet.

The incoming Princeton University senior is executive director of the Food Justice Foundation (FJF), a nonprofit that provides much needed fruits and vegetables to underserved areas of Trenton. FJF actually grew out of a class project in which Behmke and a handful of classmates wanted to tackle a social problem in their community.

“Our idea was just in general to work on food access issues,” Behmke says. “We were just thinking, ‘How do we help food co-ops or grocery stores get established in urban areas, where there aren’t stores with access to fresh fruits and vegetables?’”

Behmke had some personal experience. When Behmke was a child, his mother had been a part of several produce-buying clubs, which are groups of people who pool their money to buy fruits and vegetables at lower, wholesale prices. Behmke himself was in a raw milk buying club in Boston one summer.

So after visiting a food cooperative in Philadelphia and chatting with a few other experts, Behmke and his colleagues decided to form their own nonprofit to bring buying clubs into areas of Trenton that lacked easy access to fresh, affordable produce.

They started with a pilot project at the Living Hope Church in Trenton, where the congregation came together to form a produce-buying club of its own. FJF worked with a wholesaler to purchase the produce at a fair price, then took charge of administrative tasks that included creating order forms, taking orders, figuring out individual pricing, and getting the fruits and veggies to the church, where they were distributed.

“We try to get a good mix of local things, and things that people are used to eating,” Behmke says.

In six months, the foundation moved about 6,000 pounds of produce, Behmke says, adding that the foundation estimates the churchgoers saved about $3,000 on their groceries.

“People definitely appreciated the service, and said they were getting much higher quality stuff and better prices than at the grocery store,” Behmke says. “That’s why they continued to use it.”

With the buying club at the church a success, FJF is looking to expand its efforts to local schools. On June 17, it conducted a fundraiser at a local elementary school, with parents, staff and others buying produce in bulk. It’s a win-win: students and their families have a way to receive affordable, healthy groceries, and 5 percent of the profits go to the school’s playground fund, which helps implement the school’s physical activity programming.

The process was easy enough, Behmke notes, as parents placed orders for fruits and veggies ranging from broccoli and asparagus to pineapples and mangoes. Forty-nine orders were placed, and about 500 pounds of produce was moved, Behmke estimates.

School officials are working with the foundation to have a buying club up and running at the elementary school by September, Behmke says, with proceeds continuing to help the playground fund.

“I truly believe we figured out something that could really help the area,” Behmke says. “Not only are we making it available, we’re encouraging people to eat this way, and making it a physical presence.”

The Inside Track should note that Behmke isn’t the only Princeton student working for FJF. Development Director and President of the Board Kelly Reilly studies media theory and aesthetics at the university, for example, and several other students hold key roles or serve on the foundation’s board of directors.

Despite the pressures of college, FJF is looking to grow its efforts. The foundation is applying for grants and hoping to eventually expand its work to other cities.

Click here to contact Taylor Behmke.