Produce With Purpose

photo ofProduce
Alum Fights Food Waste With “Ugly” Fruits and Vegetables
by Natalie Koltun ’16 | produce photo by John T. Consoli

We’re spoiled as shoppers. We’re accustomed to dazzling displays of brightly hued fruit and crisp greens. We expect our produce to look perfect.

But what about the fruits and vegetables that are misshapen, discolored and just plain puny, the estimated billion pounds of fruits and vegetables that never make it to store shelves and are unceremoniously dumped instead?

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“If we’d follow our taste buds, not our eyes, we’d know that food doesn’t have to look good to taste good,” says Evan Lutz ’14, CEO and co-founder of Hungry Harvest.

His subscription-based produce delivery service has a high-minded mission (or three): to salvage “ugly” surplus produce, thereby reducing food waste, employ homeless men and women to package the containers, and donate one meal to a local food bank for each box delivered.

Since its 2014 launch, the Howard County, Md., company has recovered more than 500,000 pounds (and donated an additional 185,000) of unattractive or excess produce that local farmers would have otherwise tossed.

In January, Lutz pitched his business on ABC’s reality show “Shark Tank,” and celebrity investor Robert Herjavec bit with a $100,000 infusion of cash.

Within three weeks, the company tripled in size to nearly 1,900 weekly subscribers, and the business expanded along the East Coast—from the D.C. area to Philadelphia and New York. Lutz plans to launch in Pittsburgh, Richmond, Boston, Miami and Chicago by 2018.

Along with building healthier communities, Lutz aims to propel Hungry Harvest to become the nation’s largest produce delivery service in 10 years.

Lutz came up with his vision while volunteering with the Food Recovery Network his senior year. Launched by UMD students to fight food waste by reclaiming dining hall fare, the nonprofit has ballooned to 170 campuses nationwide. He also sold “ugly” and surplus produce from Recovered Food CSA outside the Stamp Student Union, eventually growing a weekly clientele of nearly 500 students.

Sara Herald, associate director of social entrepreneurship at the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship, mentored Lutz to a third-place finish in the 2014 Do Good Challenge, a campus competition that encourages students’ social entrepreneurship.

“If you’re going to be a successful entrepreneur that’s set out to change the world like he has, you have to have that audacity and bold vision,” she says.

Hungry Harvest, Lutz says, is centered on the term “conscious capitalism.”

“We’re a for-profit company, but we want to do that the right way. Giving back to society doesn’t cost us any more, so why wouldn’t we?” he says.

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