Hungry Harvest: This is Their Story

1. Summarize your organization in one sentence.

We believe that no food should go to waste and that no person should go hungry. That’s why we source, hand pack, and securely deliver delicious boxes of recovered produce on a weekly and bi-weekly basis. For every delivery, we subsidize 2 lbs of produce for families living in food deserts through our produce in SNAP sites.

2. How long have you been running your organization?

We founded Hungry Harvest in 2014 on the University of Maryland campus.

3. Why did you decide to start the organization?

I’ve always believed that through social entrepreneurship, we can exact swift systemic change to some of the biggest problems our world faces with regard to food justice.  I started this company with the belief that food is a right, not a privilege, and work daily to increase access to fresh produce to those in need.

4. What has been your biggest achievement so far?

This year we surpassed 3 million pounds of food recovered and 500k pounds more donated.  You can’t put a price, or a TV show appearance, or an award on the look on people’s faces when you hand them a full box of fresh produce and know that on that day, they will not be hungry because of your team’s work.

5. How do you measure success?

Every few months we anonymously survey our team to take a pulse on happiness in the work they are doing and belief that we are authentically serving the company mission.  My team is at a 9.2 overall satisfaction rating, which grew .02 from the last poll; we’ve never been under 9.  Our customer ratings are in the 9’s as well, and our number one growth metric is in friend referrals: people get our product, love it, believe in us, and want to share it with their community.  That’s authentic success. That’s how I know we’re doing the right thing.

6. What have you learned in the process?

To be flexible and listen.  Our direction is always toward ending food deserts and bringing about food justice for all.  It’s the way we listen to customer and team feedback to make better choices every day that keeps us moving forward.

7. What advice would you give to someone trying to get involved in food recovery?

Do it. The systemic issues in the food industry are vast and complicated.  It’s going to take a myriad of solutions to truly fix the problem of food waste, hunger, fair compensation for farmers, and more efficient logistics from farm to fork.  We are one solution, but I look forward to more people joining this cause and bringing new ideas and technologies to fill in the gaps toward a more whole solution.

8. What’s next?

Expansion & wholesale.  We are launching our Miami office shortly, with plans to add 3 more cities by year’s end on the East Coast. Through our wholesale channels, we are able to rescue and serve more broadly across the states to help connect food to consumption.

9. Anything else you want to add?

We are indebted to our subscribers, and to our partners.  None of this would be possible without a community of people who truly believe in food justice, and help us each day to better our product, and our service. Thank you doesn’t begin to cover the appreciation the team and I feel for your support.

10. Fun question: What was the best meal you ate this week?

Oh man, that’s a tough call! We are always sampling new produce and recipes posted by our recipe club, so many good things to choose – this week in particular I’d have to say the Asian Pear, Arugula & Feta pizza one of our ambassadors made up. There are few things better than a fresh made pizza on a beautiful sunny day.

Evan Lutz, CEO and co-founder of Hungry Harvest

My eyes are open. I’m in shock!

food.recovery.saynotofoodwaste.hunger.sustainability.happy2What I’m about to say must stay a secret. A truth that we all know, but don’t talk about. A taboo of sorts. Something along the lines of: we know that processed food and tobacco is bad for us, but we still consume fast food and smoke cigarettes.  Both the industry and the public knows about its harms, but does it anyway.

So, you’re wondering, what does this lady want to share that seems so shocking? And truth be told, for those involved in the food redistribution and food donation industry, this is probably old news. But for someone just coming into this field, it’s a major wake up call!

The secret

As some of you may know, every weekend I help redistribute surplus food from an organic local market to a non-profit that weekly prepares and shares meals with the homeless. The food that I handle is fresh, colorful, organic and expensive. Most people who work and don’t rely on assistance wouldn’t be able to buy these produce on their paychecks. So when I drive with a trunk full of expensive and valuable produce to be donated to those in need, instead of being thrown in the trash, I feel pretty darn happy and proud of myself!

Well, this week I had a chance to speak to a few non-profits as I expand the food redistribution network of Say No To Food Waste. And while all the non-profits I spoke with told me they are happy to receive more food, I was saddened by the type of food their clients wanted to receive.

It turns out, individuals who are faced with food insecurity want comfort food. They DO want help, but they DON’T want to change their diet or taste buds. Many are used to processed, fried, salty and sweet meals. So when they see colorful, fresh and organic food, they A) Don’t know what to do with it, or how to cook it, and B) They feel that it’s not as tasty and therefore want to throw it away.

WHAT?

saynotofoodwaste.hunger.foodwaste.sustainability.love.volunteer.happy.1That’s just insane! Here I am, so happy to be rescuing fresh produce that is extremely expensive, and helping people not just eat, but eat healthy, and then learn that the people I’m working hard for desire foods that aren’t healthy (non-organic, non-vegetarian, fast food). It really blew my mind!

Of course, there is no one here to blame but ourselves. As I mentioned earlier, we all know that tobacco and processed foods are bad, but most of us still smoke and eat fast food. Our choices and motivators have shifted from long-term results to short-term pleasures. Looking at the state of affairs of our environment and economy, this is very well and easy to see.

But I couldn’t believe that individuals who are in need, and rely on assistance, were voicing their concerns about the food they were receiving. That it was too different for them and they didn’t know what to do with it. This challenge requires immediate action of changing people’s behavior. But that’s a hard thing to do.

Solutions?

I feel that the best solution for this problem would be to make cooking fun! Make discovering new dishes a form of travel that most people can afford. And create curiosity for people around new tastes and sounds. Such as crispy red peppers crunching and bursting with flavor in your mouth. Or sliding a celery stick through soft and rich humus, sprinkled with olive oil.

All these things make me happy! They make me feel good, and I realize that I was taught to eat local and fresh from childhood. Most people weren’t. But I am positive that once people open the veil in front of their eyes and accept truth for what it is, we will stop killing our bodies with toxins from food and tobacco, and begin to cherish ourselves and the planet.

I hope I’m not wrong on this one.

With much love,
Hokuma

Report From Day 3: #Belowtheline

DSCN5371Three days below the line and you get into the swing of things. You accept that for breakfast you will eat boring oatmeal, but take it with a sense of humbleness knowing that a full stomach is better than an empty one.

Throughout the day you work, try to focus on things other than food…and in truth, everyday you get better at it. On the other hand it is sad that you can no longer look forward to lunch or dinner, plan the delicious dishes you could have made, or go into the supermarket and walk the aisles in search of something new and enticing to buy.

So instead you try to be flexible and work within your budget, such as find a 25 cent treasure at the corner store – a frozen chocolate banana. It is sweet, cold and healthy. But best of all, it is cheap and affordable! There are not many things in life that are cheap and healthy, in fact, finding such things can be quite difficult.

Then it is lunchtime, and you have some pasta left from yesterday, so you use it. What do you make? The same dish as yesterday, because tomatoes and onion are the cheapest in the market. After the dish is made you question whether you take another picture of the same dish or if people would get bored with the hackneyed recipes your budget allows for. Then a thought pops up into your head: who are the people that always take pictures of food they are about to eat or just finished cooking…. it’s probably not someone poor and food insecure. Interesting thought, no?

By dinnertime you decide to take on a challenge, break out of the mundane food you’ve been eating and stretch your imagination to make something new on less than 60 cents. You go back to the same market and look at all the vegetables available to you and get your hands on cassava – a vegetable in the potato family, but with less starch and much smoother taste. Of course, onions and tomatoes have become essentials for every dish you make so you grab those too.

In the night you eat a rich dish of cassava and declare victory over bland food! The colors, the textures and the soft grilled onion are a success. You forget that you’re eating on a budget and bring your attention to the beautiful food on your plate. When it’s all done you decide that a nice dessert would be perfect, but remember that you still have 2 more days of living below the line… and below the line variety and food luxuries are not available. Very unfair, isn’t it?

Living below the line you get a taste of reality and truly begin to experience that there in fact is a difference between the rich and the poor. But while it is normal to have such a difference, it shouldn’t be so grave when it comes to food. This activity makes you see that it is time to erase this line, because we don’t need two food systems, one for the wealthy and one for the poor. We need one system that can provide good, nutritious and delicious food to everyone, because food and water are a human right!