Hungry Harvest recovers agricultural surplus and provides healthy food to communities in Maryland and Washington D.C. at an affordable price. For every bag sold, the company makes a matching donation to a local family in need.
Food Tank sat down with COO and co-founder, John Zamora, to see how Hungry Harvest is working to reduce food waste.
Food Tank (FT): Tell us about how you got involved with Hungry Harvest?
John Zamora (JZ): One of our co-founders, Ben Simon, who is also the Executive Director of the Food Recovery Network, had the idea of being able to reduce food waste, support local agriculture, and provide those in need with nutritious food, by selling “ugly” produce. Ben and our CEO, Evan Lutz, created a pilot program called the Recovered Food CSA that sold this “ugly” produce in front of our student union for $5 for 5 lbs. About a month after the Recovered Food CSA’s creation, I began volunteering with them because I loved the concept, and then it began developing into the company it is now.
FT: How exactly does Hungry Harvest work?
JZ: We partner with local farms, gleaning networks, and suppliers who are able to provide us with surplus produce. We deliver the produce to our partner’s warehouse, Manna Food Center. We hire guys from the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless to help us with the triage and bagging process. After the bags of produce are assembled, our team of delivery drivers deliver bags of food right to our members doors. For every pound sold to one of our members, we donate a pound of produce to a local food bank, homeless shelter, or family in need. We have 300 paying members who have helped us recover over 115,000 lbs. of produce, of which over 62,000 lbs. has been donated to those in need. I love the synergy between residents, businesses, and charitable organizations to help further this awesome mission.
FT: How big of a problem do you perceive food waste to be in the United States, and what is unique about Hungry Harvest’s approach to tackling that issue?
JZ: There are approximately 6 billion pounds of produce that go to waste each year while there are close to 50 million Americans who are reported as suffering from Hunger. It’s a huge and frustrating issue to see this unlimited supply going to waste. Hungry Harvest's approach is unique because we are helping to reduce food waste by eliminating the stigma associated with surplus and “ugly” produce. We sign people up for a subscription model, much like a CSA. It's 30-50 percent cheaper, and for every bag you buy, you are also helping feed those in need.
FT: Do you ever have issues with not being able to glean enough produce for the shares?
JZ: We have always been able to glean enough produce for our members. If there is ever a shortage of produce for us to glean, then there isn’t as much food being wasted. If one day we don’t have any surplus/ “ugly” produce, then that’s a good thing, since there won’t be any food waste.
FT: What are the biggest challenges to growing the number of subscribers to Hungry Harvest?
JZ: It’s really about awareness.I would say 10/10 people would love the idea; it's just getting in front of those potential members that has been the biggest challenge in scaling.
FT: You are currently based in the Washington, DC and Baltimore areas; are there any plans to bring Hungry Harvest to other parts of the U.S.?
JZ: I would love it if one day we could take our operations to a warmer part of the country, but for right now we are focusing on increasing the density in the areas we currently serve. We do however expect to be in Virginia by the end of 2015.
FT: If there is one thing Food Tank subscribers could do to support Hungry Harvest’s mission, what would that be?
JZ: Eat ugly fruit. There is no reason to choose “perfect” produce over “ugly” produce, because after all, it’s what’s on the inside that counts! Check out our website at www.hungryharvest.net. If you live in the DC, Baltimore, MD areas we serve then sign up, tell your friends to sign up, tell your grumpy neighbor to sign up because combating food waste and feeding those in need is something that requires collaboration.