Have you ever stopped to look at produce in the grocery store? If so, you may have noticed that it all sort of looks the same… So what happens to the fruits and vegetables that are, well, different?
“Food desert” is a term that has been thrown around a lot lately, but what about “produce surplus”? Grocery stores buy produce from farmers, but only the type that meets their esthetic expectations. That means any produce that is too small, large or even lumpy will never make it to the shelves. Usually those leftovers will get thrown away, resulting in 40 percent of gathered produce going to waste. That’s where Hungry Harvest comes in.
Started in 2014 by Evan Lutz and John Zamora, Hungry Harvest is a for-profit social enterprise located in Jessup, MD. “I’ve been interested in social entrepreneurship since I was a kid,” Lutz says. As a student at the University of Maryland, he was involved with the Food Recovery Network, an organization founded in 2011 aimed at reducing dining hall food waste on college campuses. The evolution from “recovering” dining hall food to farm produce occurred naturally, and by the end of his senior year Lutz had the idea for Hungry Harvest.
Here’s how it works: Hungry Harvest buys produce that farmers and wholesalers can’t sell to the grocery stores at a discounted rate. Once these vegetables and fruits get back to the Jessup warehouse, Hungry Harvest staff hand-select a variety of produce to be bagged up and shipped to subscribers. There are a few different options—the original recovered produce bag ranges from $15 to $35 a week, and there are all-organic and fruit-only bags as well.
The original bag varies depending on the season and what is readily available, but usually contains at least one leafy green, a few large vegetables and a couple of fruits. The variation can be a challenge for meal planning, but Hungry Harvest offers a recipe page for customers on its website. The company also delivers right to your doorstep, providing a convenience factor that grocery stores can’t match.
And to top it all off, for every bag that is delivered, Hungry Harvest makes a food donation to a non-profit organization in its network such as Our Daily Bread , Nourish Now and the Capital Area Food Bank.
“Hungry Harvest is a great example of social entrepreneurship at work for the good of the community,” said Sean McEvoy, Director of Small Business Resources at the Maryland Department of Commerce. “It’s inspiring to see ‘Terp’ business graduates motivated to use their business knowledge and skills to improve the world around them.”
Hungry Harvest currently serves more than 600 customers in the Maryland, DC and Virginia area. To sign up for the service, visit the website. “It takes three minutes to sign up,” says Lutz. “And then you have fresh produce weekly right to your door!”