By Whitney Pipkin
The avocados are too small. The apples don’t stand up on their own. The carrots have a little too much, shall we say, character. But Hungry Harvest's customers don’t seem to mind. In fact, wanting such foods to go to good use is one of the reasons they signed up to receive a weekly share of the so-called“ ugly produce” from the Columbia, Maryland–based startup. Since launching in 2014, the company has diverted 2 million pounds of produce that would have been wasted, instead delivering it to customers and donating another 400,000 pounds to hunger relief organizations.
Hungry Harvest has grown exponentially since early last year, when its CEO and co-founder Evan Lutz appeared on the ABC reality show “Shark Tank”—and walked away with a $100,000 check from one of the celebrity investors.
The numbers, after all, can be hard to ignore: Forty percent of food never gets eaten in this country, because it is deemed unsellable at the farm, rejected at the grocery store or left languishing in the back of refrigerators and on plates. Hungry Harvest’s business model takes aim at the fruits and vegetables falling through the first two cracks by recovering misshapen eggplants or rejected tomatoes and delivering them directly to customers.
The company’s delivery network has expanded in and around Washington, where Ritesh Gupta, the company’s director of impact, says customers are familiar with the problem of food wasteand eager to do something about it.
“There’re so many people in this area that are interested in sustainability but lead busy lives,” says Gupta. Customers“ tend to come from the education or government worlds, where there’salready a conversation going on about ugly produce.”
As an employee of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who works on food waste issues, Adams Morgan resident Claudia Fabiano was an early convert to the Hungry Harvest concept. She replaced her community-supported agriculture (CSA) box, which was smaller and required her to pick it up each week, with deliveries of produce she knows might otherwise have been tossed. The boxes are less seasonal in nature, because they pull from a broader growing region, but they also include avocados and mangoes instead of“ all root vegetables all winter. ”Hungry Harvest’s weekly shares cost an average of $30, with a “mini harvest” option available for $15 and a“super organic harvest” box for $55.
“Generally, you have to be someone who likes to get a variety of stuff,” Fabiano says.“ You understand the idea and support the cause if you’re doing this.”
The company’s weekly boxes are currently available throughout Washington, DC, Arlington, Alexandria, Baltimore and Philadelphia, with plans to continue expanding into the suburbs. New delivery options allow offices to subscribe to weekly fruit boxes or to coordinate deliveries for several employees.
Fabiano says she builds her meals around the produce that comes in her box each week, and knowing the source encourages her think twice about throwing any of it out.
“Somebody took the effort to glean this stuff out of the potential waste stream and deliver it to my house,” she says.“ It’s already been through a lot to get here, so it would be silly for me to throw it in the trash.”
Can’t swing a CSA right now?
Consider spreading the #foodwaste message by adding Hungry Harvest’s ugly produce emojis to your texting arsenal.
Download Ritesh Gupta’s “Ugly Produce! ”emojis for free from iTunes.
Learn more about Hungry Harvest.