Rob Streit JN Intern
Company rescues ugly fruits and veggies from going to waste.
Community-supported agriculture has grown in popularity in recent years. CSAs as they are called, provide consumers the chance to buy a “farm share” and, in return, the farm provides a box of produce each week.
But Hungry Harvest takes the idea of farm-to-doorstep boxes in a different direction. The Maryland-based company, founded by CEO Evan Lutz, specializes in bringing produce deemed aesthetically unpleasing to customers in eight regions across the U.S. Starting this month, Hungry Harvest will begin delivering in Metro Detroit.
“A lot of people requested that we come to Detroit. We had a waitlist, so we knew we had potential customers,” Lutz says.
Hungry Harvest didn’t always have the wide reach it enjoys today. Lutz, 25, started his company as a senior at the University of Maryland.
“I was working for a nonprofit that took leftover food from dining halls, and student volunteers drove it to soup kitchens and homeless shelters,” Lutz says.
He was approached by a farmer who was selling about 80 percent of his product but was plowing under the remainder of his crops. The waste came from a lack of interest from buyers or because the produce had an odd shape, size or color.
“But the produce was still unbelievably fresh. To my eyes, it was the same as the stuff I bought at the farmers market,” Lutz says.
He decided the solution was to start a farm stand in his dorm’s basement, selling five pounds of produce for $5. The stand went from 10 customers to 500 in a matter of months. From that model, Lutz began Hungry Harvest’s home delivery service in 2014.
“We started out in Washington, D.C., with two people doing everything — orders, delivery, marketing,” Lutz says.
Soon his brainchild had outposts in Baltimore, Philadelphia, Miami and Raleigh, N.C.
Lutz always had an interest in social entrepreneurship — the idea that a business can create positive social change in a community.
“It goes back to my upbringing in a Conservative Jewish household. We volunteered in soup kitchens and homeless shelters,” says Lutz, who attended Beth El Congregation in Pikesville, Md., just outside of Baltimore.
Parents Helene and Randy didn’t stand for plates with food still on them. Everything was eaten, saved as leftovers or composted.
The entrepreneur believes in the concept of tikkun olam. He says this guides his work and his desire to reduce food waste while providing people with healthy food options.
Hungry Harvest has partnered with Oak Park-based Forgotten Harvest, an organization that rescues food that would otherwise go to waste. Forgotten Harvest receives food donations from restaurants, grocery stores, farms and other sources and delivers them to 250 soup kitchens, shelters and food pantries in Metro Detroit.
Chris Ivey is the director of marketing and public relations at Forgotten Harvest. He says the arrangement was a natural fit. “As we’re the food rescue experts in Metro Detroit, they reached out to us as a partner to donate their surplus food to,” Ivey says. “Both missions are trying to eliminate food waste.”
Hungry Harvest began donating to the nonprofit June 2.
“They are creating weekly shipments to us with the fruits and vegetables they were able to procure and not able to sell in their regular retail program for profit,” Ivey says.
Most of the produce in Hungry Harvest’s boxes comes from local farms. The rest comes from wholesalers or packaging houses that sort out produce that won’t go to market, usually because of visual imperfections.
Another reason produce goes to waste has to do with surpluses. According to Lutz, when a farmer has a surplus harvest, it is difficult to market and the price often drops.
“We wind up wasting about 40 percent of the food we grow in the U.S. That’s $218 billion on a yearly basis, or 1.3 percent of our gross domestic product,” Lutz says. “We use lands the size of Texas and California for food we don’t eat.”
Through his company, Lutz combines the idea of tikkun olam and eating healthy — two things he is passionate about.