Battling the imbalance between getting healthy food into a consumer's hands and minimizing food waste can take on both a charitable and a corporate role. There’s a place for fruit and vegetables that are too small and cucumbers that are too curvy. More people are innovating new products made from ‘ugly’ food.
Helping reduce food waste
Hungry Harvest (HH) isn’t a charity, though they do have a charitable component. They consider themselves a “resource”, according to Stacy Carroll of Hungry Harvest. It’s a farm to doorstep rescued produce delivery company on a mission to end food waste and hunger. Food goes to waste while people in the country live in food insecurity. HH uses one problem to solve another. The company started in Baltimore about three years ago. To date they’ve recovered about 5 million pounds of food that would have other wise gone to waste because surplus harvest, or due to size, shape, color. The founder’s vision was “was why not take something that he calls farmer food and give it to people who just want to eat (healthy),” she says.
Helps farmers receive better return on harvest yield
They now have presence in Baltimore, Philladelphia, Washington DC, Mayland, South Florida and on January 12 launched a new branch in Raleigh-Durham. “People are very thrilled that this resource is coming into their communities. It’s all very much driven where we have farmers who are looking for some help with being able to get a better return on their total harvest yield,” says Carroll. It also meets the dietary needs of community members who benefit from donations to local charity partners and also the regular consumer who wants a good price, convenience and wants to support the mission that helps feed their friends and neighbors.
Mixed harvest box sizes
The customer base is varied. “Our average customer is anybody with $15 and an address,” says Carroll. Mini boxes (up to 10 lbs. of produce) range between $15 - $28, Full boxes cost from $24 – $40 and the Super ranges from $35 - $50. Boxes can contain a medley of leafy greens, two to three types of vegetables, two to three types of fruits and what Carroll calls a “fun item” which could be something like dragon fruit or avocado. Each box comes with recipes to help consumers create healthy dishes – and learn how to use produce they might not be familiar with. She says kids get excited when the boxes are delivered and therefore enthusiastic about eating what’s inside. Last week some of Baltimore’s boxes contained winter squash, bok choy, mixed colored peppers, parsnips, artichokes and spaghetti squash, though it changes weekly.
Schools and students benefit
Partnering with schools also gets more healthy food into students’ tummies. Baltimore County Public Schools is one of their biggest demographics; over 750 teachers are enrolled in the program. “What’s great is that you start a community and a conversation. You’ve got all these teachers interacting and picking up their boxes, people are talking about what recipes they use, they’re also talking about the hunger issues in schools, they’re talking about families who may be food insecure.”
Employing the community
HH operates its own warehouse and co-packers and employs independent contractors for drivers. The fleet uses software to map out the most efficient delivery routes, which Carroll says lessens the company’s carbon output. “The drivers are key to the success of Hungry Harvest,” she explains. “As we like to give a second chance to fruit and veg we also like to give a second chance to people too.” Many of the drivers are people who are coming off a re-entry program or those working hard to help make ends meet. Drivers earn between $17 – 25/hour.
Healthcare industry program launched
Just launched last Friday for all areas HH services, HarvestRx is geared towards the healthcare industry. Hospitals, caregivers, nursing homes, coordinating centres, and charities that want to help get food to people but don’t have a supplier go through Hungry Harvest. They receive a discounted rate on boxes, which get delivered to patients’ homes for eight weeks. Last year, 30 patients received boxes but this year there will be 1,200. It’s an incredible success, all sponsored by area hospitals and healthcare givers.” Many of the patients live in food insecurity and the only access to affordable food is fast food. “If the only thing in your area is a McDonald’s it’s going to be hard to heal.” Carroll says there has been a $300 per person reduction in medical expenses. “They’re not hungry, their medicines are working better because they’re eating healthier.”
HH has eager plans to be present in 36 cities in the next three years to form partnerships with those looking for affordable access to food. “We’re looking to be a resource to a city, we’re not trying to be the whole solution.”
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