There’s nothing wrong with most of the fruits and vegetables we throw away all the time, and now a startup in the Washington, D.C., area is proving it. And how. Hungry Harvest is building a decent business around all the perfectly edible produce farmers and wholesalers can’t use, or don’t want.
Founded by three graduates from the University of Maryland last year, the company buys heavily discounted fruits and vegetables, then delivers bags of goodness to homes in northern Virginia, Maryland, and D.C. At the same time, it also gives away one bag of food for every bag it sells, helping out people who can’t always afford fresh food.
CEO Evan Lutz, 22, was volunteering with the Food Recovery Network, a national student-run nonprofit, when he started working on the idea. He set up a stall on campus offering five pounds of recovered food for $5. Then, after graduation, he started collecting and marketing the bags. Hungry Harvest now has 600 regular subscribers who pay between $15 and $35 a week, and the company has already generated $250,000 in revenues.
Research shows that up to 40% of all food in the U.S. is wasted, with a good part of that never reaching retail stores. At harvest time, farmers can’t sell everything they produce, either because there isn’t a market, or their produce doesn’t meet our absurd expectations of what fruits and vegetables should look like. Hungry Harvest scoops up cucumbers that aren’t the right shade of green, apples with lines on them, and plenty of misshapen carrots and potatoes.
Lutz’s team visits farms and wholesalers to “triage” the waste pile, picking out the best specimens. Then it hires independent contractors, including students, to make free deliveries. Currently on the menu are Boston lettuces, red and yellow peppers, squashes, and cucumbers. Not everything is local: Lutz says cutting food waste is a bigger priority than buying stuff grown in the area, though Hungry Harvest does try to do that.
The donated bags go to food banks as well as what Lutz calls “free farmers markets” where Hungry Harvest gives away food to passersby. For example, it’s organizing an upcoming event in West Baltimore a few feet from where the riots erupted in April.
There’s really no reason not to make use of all the food we grow. It’s really just a question of designing new secondary systems to scoop up produce before it really rots. Hungry Harvest has one model for doing just that.