Dirty exterior. Overpurchased. Funkily shaped.
These are some of the reasons grocers reject fruit and vegetable shipments, though they probably don’t wrinkle their noses when inspecting pallets of food and say, “No, these are too funkily shaped.”
But it’s true that fruits and vegetables are judged by their exteriors.
At least 25% percent of food produced in the U.S. goes to waste; fresh fruits and vegetables often get tossed because of surface blemishes or surplus harvests.
One company is on a mission to save that rejected produce and put it to good use in communities near Baltimore, Washington, D.C. and Philadelphia.
How Hungry Harvest Works
Baltimore-based Hungry Harvest recovers produce that would normally be thrown away when shipments don’t meet standards or grocers reject them.
The produce gets sorted into packages that work for consumers, ranging from a $15-per-week “mini harvest” box to a “super organic harvest” box priced at $55 per week. In between, there are options for fruit lovers and veggie heads, and there’s even an “office harvest” box packed with fruit perfect for snacking.
For every order placed with the company, Hungry Harvest donates 1 to 2 pounds of produce to community partners that make sure it reaches to people who don’t have much access to fresh food.
Can You Dig This Ugly Fresh Produce?
As our Washington, D.C. correspondent for most of the year, I signed up for a $15 mini harvest. Hungry Harvest delivers Friday through Monday, with trucks heading to certain areas at the same date and time each week.
On Friday, I received an email with details about the shipment I’d receive on Sunday morning:
3 Golden Delicious apples
3 yellow potatoes
1 container of cabernet tomatoes
1 head of broccoli
1 navel orange
1 head of romaine lettuce
2 yellow squashes
1 red onion
1 container of blackberries
I also got to see why the original buyer had rejected everything in my shipment. Surplus product or scarred skin prevented most of the items in my mid-October box from making the cut.
My favorite? The green peppers, which came with this story: “Some of the packaging was bumped by a forklift or some other vehicle and it broke some of the cases that the produce was packed into. So the original retail outlet rejected the entire batch. Nothing wrong with the produce, it’s just another day in this crazy world.”
When I opened the box, I couldn’t tell that anything was “wrong” with any of the produce. The broccoli looked fresh. The blackberries were plump. The red onion was small, as were the potatoes. But nothing looked worthy of rejection.
“Everything looks exactly like I would buy in the grocery store or at the farmers market,” I reported to my curious co-workers.
“No bumps, no bruises, no weird marks. I’m about to make the best salad ever tonight.”
But Does It Taste Good?
As for taste, this small box packed a flavorful punch. I shared my box with my two roommates to prevent food waste. The kiwis were tart, the blackberries sweetened plain Greek yogurt, and I did indeed make the best salad ever.
And because so much of what came in my mini harvest was snackable, I wasn’t worried about how I would use the contents — unlike friends who have been excited about participating in farm-share programs, only to be overwhelmed with the quantity and uniqueness of the supplies.
The Vegetable Verdict
There’s no way I could have bought so much produce in the city for just $15. And while other farm-share programs require local pickup and have limited size options (big or bigger), Hungry Harvest seems like the perfect fit for small households – especially car-free ones.
The only problem: that limited delivery area! The company said it will begin expanding its delivery territory within the mid-Atlantic (get ready, New Jersey!) before venturing to new places — which means we in Florida may be waiting a while.
Your Turn: How do you shop for fruits and veggies?
Lisa Rowan is a writer and producer at The Penny Hoarder. She was previously the unofficial Washington, D.C. correspondent.