Maryland Startup Aims to End Tons of Food Waste

By:Kelly Louise Barton

Date:January 6, 2016

Category:Innovator Profile, Kelly Louise Barton

Every year, billions of pounds of food are thrown away. Just like that, anything from cake to fresh produce is tossed into the trash, often in perfectly edible condition. Meanwhile, 50 million people in the United States (that’s one sixth of our country’s population) can’t afford the luxury of fresh produce (see the stranglehold cheap options like McDonalds have on lower income families and food deserts), or afford to feed themselves at all.

Yet as the members of these food insecure households continue to starve or subject their bodies to poor diets because it’s their only affordable option, food is constantly disposed of for one simple reason: it’s ugly. Of course this might not come as a surprise, as we live in a nation obsessed with the superficial, but when it comes to food, this notion of produce being “too ugly to eat” is so ridiculously fickle it’s difficult to comprehend. Despite wanting to ignore it, the stigma surrounding misshaped or discolored produce is engrained so deeply in society that anything deemed “ugly” is often tossed into garbage bins without a second thought.

EVAN LUTZ (HUNGRY HARVEST)

On a national scale food justice is vastly overlooked, but in this city alone, one in four residents live in a food desert. The devastation of that number itself is heartbreaking, but when you juxtapose it to how many football fields of food are thrown away each year (730 per year, 6 billion pounds of that just being produce) it makes you question logic.

What might seem like an impossible task to most, the company Hungry Harvest is trying take on. As a produce delivery service, Hungry Harvest has been on a mission to end food waste and offset hunger in Baltimore and DC since 2014, with goals for national distribution. A pretty big feat to tackle, CEO Evan Lutz is confident the company will help elevate this waste problem, while feeding our nation with, essentially, repurposed trash.

“We work with local farmers and wholesalers to recover their surplus produce,” Lutz explains. “That’s produce that’s perfectly fine to eat that normally gets turned away because it has aesthetic problems; like an apple is too small or an eggplant has a bumped nose.” Aside from those superficial imperfections, Hungry Harvest also recovers the produce resulting from logistical inefficiencies in a produce provider’s supply chain. When stores have any rejected truckloads, Hungry Harvest’s “Harvest Heroes” recover the supply before it gets dumped in the trash.

“It’s honestly for, for lack of a better word, stupid reasons,” Lutz says. “Why would an apple go to waste? Because it’s too small?”

Another tier of the company’s mission (as if the first two weren’t enough), is directed towards average American consumers. “We’re allowing the average everyday American to afford a produce delivery service. Our product starts at just $15 a week delivered right to your door,” Lutz explains. While other CSA’s and food delivery options can start at double that price, Hungry Harvest is providing an option for people who want to eat healthier, but don’t have the sufficient funds, or the time, to do so.

That fifteen bucks a week gets subscribers a balanced variety box of produce that is determined by whatever produce is recovered that week. While the company obviously can’t predict what specifically that produce will be, they still offer subscribers the ability to opt out of the produce they don’t want by using their, “Never List” functionality. Box-content aside, Lutz explains, “For every box we deliver to a customer, we actually donate a healthy meal to somebody in need.”

Not only does Hungry Harvest solve all of those problems, their work also captures the potential value of a product that has otherwise been developed just to end up in the trash. That produce being tossed aside is not just a waste of food, but a waste of the labor and resources used to harvest that produce, to eventually feed your brain.

“Your brain functions better when you’re eating healthier,” Lutz says. “You’re better motivated to get a job, to get good grades, to do hard work, and to be successful. It’s really tough to do that when you’re eating cheeseburgers and ramen.” When you stop to think again about the number of people who go hungry in this country, and you realize that roughly 15 million of that population are children, what does that statistic mean for our future?

“If we’re expecting this country to be great with the next generation,” Lutz wonders. “How are those 15 million children going to turn out, that aren’t going to have a childhood that’s really great because they can’t eat healthy?”

Despite cities like Seattle fining its residents for throwing away food, or (internationally) France forcing its supermarkets to give away unsold food, there is a lot of progress to be had in this world when it comes to food justice. As regulating food waste in this country alone becomes a more prominent practice, it’s important that projects like this aren’t sitting around and waiting for legislation to combat these serious issues.

With ambitious goals for expanding, Hungry Harvest aims to be to be the biggest direct to home produce delivery service on the East Coast in five years. The company’s ambition hasn’t gone unnoticed, as the Hungry Harvest was selected to go on ABC’s Shark Tank to pitch the company. And while Lutz couldn’t divulge any details about the upcoming episode, his excitement was palpable, “I don’t know how they’re going to edit it,” he explains, “but I can’t tell you anything about what happened. I can tell you it’s very exciting. It’s been an exhilarating experience.

“In 10 years we want to be the largest direct to home produce delivery service in the country,” Lutz explains, further displaying how ambitious his company has been since its inception. “You only get to live once.”

Catch Hungry Harvest on this week’s episode of Shark Tank.

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