By enabling farms to sell bulk orders of misshapen or excess produce to high-volume corporate clients, Full Harvest—a winner of Fast Company’s 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards—is hoping to cut prices and increase sustainability.
We buy romaine “hearts” at the grocery store because, well, they look pretty. What many of us don’t know is that the rest of the lettuce, the outer leaves, is perfectly edible, but is shaved off to create those visually appealing hearts, meaning more lettuce is left on the field than is sold at the supermarket.
One of the objectives of Full Harvest is to diminish this waste, along with the inefficiency in the supply chain, which ultimately leads to higher prices for consumers. Every year, 20 billion pounds of produce goes to waste because of cosmetic reasons, according to the EPA’s estimates, while 41 million people in the U.S. struggle with hunger. Full Harvest’s online tech platform—the winner of the food category in Fast Company’s 2020 World Changing Ideas Awards—aims to better connect buyers and sellers, allowing them to place and take orders for “rescued” fruit and vegetables that are “surplus” or “ugly.”
“I wanted to figure out how to make the food supply chain more efficient, more sustainable, and help make it more affordable, as well,” says Christine Moseley, the company’s founder and CEO.
Full Harvest isn’t the only business rescuing the runts of the crop litters. Misfits Market delivers “ugly and imperfect produce” directly to consumers’ doors; so does Imperfect Foods (but uses the charmingly euphemistic “real food with character”). Full Harvest’s model is different; it’s a B2B company, with a tech platform that allows buyers—online retailers, cafes and juice bars, and sellers—farmers—to connect over the imperfect foods. The company, which launched operationally in January 2016, also aims to increase sustainability.
For Moseley, the incongruity between the amount of food wasted and the price of products is outrageous. “How is there all of this produce being wasted?” she says. “It’s edible, yet, we’re selling $13 green juices and paying for perfect-looking produce.” For Moseley, who’d had 12 years of experience in food supply chain, it became an ageless problem to solve, and one that would help people in the long term. “Food is touched by every single person on the planet,” she says. “It’s not a trend.”
In “digitizing” the industry, Full Harvest’s website platform cuts out the need for back-and-forth emails and texts that have traditionally wasted time and energy for both parties. They simply log in and place orders with a few clicks—for misshapen cauliflowers or beets, apples or oranges that are too big or small for aesthetic convention, carrots that aren’t the customary orange hue, or cucumbers that are too curved. They can get those outer layers of romaine or celery, which are ideal for juicing.
Moseley says, Full Harvest’s method has increased some farms’ yields by up to 30%, and their profit per acre by up to 12%. The irregular produce saves buyers between 10% and 30% in cost, a saving that ultimately reaches customers—with the hope that they ultimately won’t have to fork out $13 for those smoothies.
The work also plays into sustainability. According to the nonprofit group Project Drawdown, food waste is the third-biggest cause of climate change, more than cars or cows. And one of its most recent stats is that reducing food waste is the number-one way to keep the Earth’s warming below two degrees Celsius. Full Harvest recently reached a milestone in selling a total of 20 million pounds of produce, and Moseley says that yielding those surplus crops, and therefore cutting wastage, has saved over a billion gallons of water, and seven million kilograms of CO2 emissions.
“A lot of people are not connecting food waste to agriculture, or food waste to climate,” Moseley says, adding that a lot of her job is to educate people around the issue. In an effort to spread awareness, she’s spoken at the UN and at Davos. Ultimately, she hopes people will buy in if they see their currently untenable prices going down. “This is an opportunity for us to really help support the food ecosystem and make it more efficient, accessible, and sustainable.”