Building trust in food begins with empowering farmers through one of the largest and most diverse conservation- and sustainability-focused public-private partnerships in our nation’s history: America’s Conservation Ag Movement. To find the latest news and resources related to the Movement, visit AgWeb.com/ACAM.
Even a company founded on using food that would otherwise go to waste can improve its sustainability practices — evidenced by the latest efforts of Hungry Harvest.
Based at the Maryland Wholesale Produce Market in Jessup, Md., Hungry Harvest is a direct-to-consumer, e-commerce business that purchases misshapen, wrong-sized or surplus fresh produce that growers can’t sell.
The company delivers custom boxes to consumers’ doors with a subscription service.
As the heat of summer unfolds, Hungry Harvest sources 50%-60% of its produce from farms, packing houses and wholesalers in Maryland and the four surrounding states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia, said Evan Lutz, CEO and cofounder.
Since its start in 2014, the company has redirected about 24 million pounds of produce from going to waste and donated or subsidized about 1.4 million pounds of produce through its Produce in a SNAP program, Emergency Food Box program or through traditional donations, he said.
When the COVID-19 pandemic took hold of the U.S., Hungry Harvest saw business more than double within a week or two, and it’s sustained that level for more than 10 weeks, he said.
“We just extended our purchasing to more suppliers at this time because there is just so much product out there that is otherwise going to waste,” Lutz said.
One of the core principles of Hungry Harvest is to pay farmers on a cost-plus basis: the cost of growing, harvesting and packing, plus a percentage on top of that, which is just under the market rate.
“We want to be fair. We don’t want to take advantage of farmers,” he said.
To handle the clamoring consumer demand, the company had to stop taking on new customers until June 1, while it found more warehouse space, workers and equipment.
Deliveries go to consumers in Maryland; Washington, D.C.; Virginia; Greater Philadelphia; southern New Jersey; northern Delaware; South Florida; The Triangle Area and Charlotte in North Carolina; and the Detroit Metro Area of Michigan.
Hungry Harvest also ramped up its wholesale business to processors, large chain restaurants, meal-kit companies and other wholesalers.
“Scaling definitely takes a little bit of time,” Lutz said.
“If you told me we were going to be at this volume in November or December, we would have had plenty of time to plan for it. But when it happens in a week and sustains itself over 10 weeks, that causes a lot of problems internally in the supply chain.”
Increasing efficiencies have reduced the need for resources such as fuel and reduced the company’s own waste in several ways.
- Delivery density: Optimized delivery routes so drivers are doing less driving, plus the consumer isn’t driving to the store as frequently for fresh food;
- Tracking internal waste: Reduced waste from 6-7% to 1% of weekly totals by doubling down on outbound inventory, especially the food that didn’t make it to consumers and instead went to compost, donations and landfills;
- Monitoring coolers more closely: Less food spoiled when cooler temperatures are better maintained and proper items placed in proper temperatures;
- Packaging: Minimized non-plastic packaging in boxes while conducting research on how to replace cardboard delivery boxes with reusable containers, which requires customers to do returns; and
- Little ways: Installed water bottle-filling fountains for employees and purchased a dehydrator to turn fresh food into chips, jerky and roll-ups.
“You can put anything in there and it will taste good,” Lutz said with a laugh, continuing, “which also reduces waste and creates healthy snacks for everybody.”