In Florida, 15 percent of families don’t know where they’re going to get their next meal. When you look at children alone, that number increases to almost a quarter who are food insecure, according to Feeding America, one of the largest networks of food banks in the country.
While people are struggling to put food on the table, 40 percent of all food in the U.S. is wasted, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Food gets thrown away by grocery stores when it expires, families when it’s too old in the fridge, or in many cases, produce is simply not picked because it's too ugly to sell to a grocery store in the first place.
Hungry Harvest, a company featured on Shark Tank, just launched in South Florida and is trying to reduce the amount of food we waste by collecting and selling “ugly” fruits and vegetables.
The co-founder and CEO of Hungry Harvest, Evan Lutz, spoke with WLRN’s Wilson Sayre from his office in Baltimore.
Below is an edited excerpt of their conversation:
WLRN: What is Hungry Harvest? What are y'all doing?
LUTZ: We are a produce delivery service delivering produce right to consumers' doors right here in South Florida. The twist is we deliver produce that otherwise would have been thrown away because maybe an apple is too big or an eggplant has a funny nose to it or an orange has a little bit of green on the outside.
In this country, we waste 20 million pounds of produce and I don't think that's right. So I started this produce delivery service about three and a half years ago, where we deliver produce and for every box we deliver to a customer, we also help somebody in need to eat healthy. [The company donates food to a local organization. In South Florida’s case it's Lotus House, a homeless shelter for women and children.]
So is this produce that's just never picked or is it left on the ground of the fields? I mean how are you getting this stuff?
We primarily get it directly from farmers. There are a few different variables that go into why we waste so much food in this country, one of which is aesthetic imperfections. We have grapefruits that have scarring on the outside. You open it up and it's perfectly beautiful. We've had broccoli that have had stems that are too long of they were cut to the wrong size. They were going to go to waste on a farm, so we picked them up and bought them and distributed them to our customers as well. I don't think that we should rule our society based on aesthetic imperfection and certainly not waste 20 billion pounds of produce based on what it looks like on the outside.
How did you get involved with this business?
It actually started as a school project. I got approached by a farmer who had a surplus of too much harvest that he couldn't sell. He approached me about selling it to college students for five bucks for five panels. I said yes. First week, we had 10 students come up and buy from me; next week it was 20. By the end of the semester, six months later, we had 500 customers coming up and buying from us every single week. At that point, I turned it into a home delivery service called Hungry Harvest. That was about three and a half years ago.
So Hungry Harvest is up and running in Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and Philadelphia. Why was South Florida the next place you chose to expand to?
There are so many farmers down in South Florida that really need help moving a lot of their product. We already had relationships with a lot of farmers, so the move was pretty natural from a supply perspective. And then we looked at also the demographics of South Florida and we thought there's a lot of customers there.
Not only are there a lot of customers in South Florida, but there's a lot of people that need help. I think one out of every six people, I think a million out of six million in South Florida, are food insecure. And we think we can do a lot to help a community that doesn't otherwise have access to healthy fruits and vegetables. So if you have $17 and an address, we can deliver produce right to your door.
We're entering the holiday season. A lot of families are fortunate enough to be able to prepare a big feast with lots of dishes. What do you want people to keep in mind as they begin to cook this holiday season?
I really want to make sure that people have a zero waste Thanksgiving. Forty percent of everything we grow in the United States ultimately goes uneaten. A lot of that 40 percent, about half of it, about 20 percent of food, actually falls on the consumers. So when you're cooking, save the leftovers and make sure you use all different parts of the turkey or all different parts of the produce. Really, really good chefs and really good cooks, they don't waste anything in their kitchen. So make sure that you save leftovers and you make sure that, you know, you're not wasting any part of the fruits and vegetables that you're cooking with.