Before Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables there was 2nds

How do you spot an innovator and what does it even mean? For me it is someone that addresses the needs of the future by reading and understanding the signs of today. The great thing is that innovation comes from all countries, fields and areas. It can be a person, an organization or a company.

Screen shot 2014-08-21 at 10.20.17 AMToday I want to focus on Hometown Harvest, a company that was selling ugly fruits at a cheaper price before Intemarché launched its Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables campaign. You see, Hometown Harvest is one of the original adopters of such an idea and has been offering this service to customers every few weeks. Its clients and customers can buy uglier produce in bulk at discount prices and use the goods in canning, baking pies or anything else their hearts desire.

Considering that eating healthy is something on everyone’s mind these days, such offers are becoming popular! Whether this change is driven by GMO labeling campaigns, farmers’ market trends, or the cold facts of science, which reveal the dangers of processed food, people are listening!

Screen shot 2014-08-21 at 10.21.19 AMSince most stores avoid offering cheaper items in fear they will lose profits from their regular line, we wanted to ask Hometown Harvest about their experience. Founder Tony Brusco answered our questions and explained his strategy. A fun fact about Tony: he is also a farmer! This makes him very aware of what it’s like to be on all sides of the agriculture business: as a producer, retailer and consumer.

So without further adieu, we invite you inside the world of a modern innovator and sustainable business owner Tony

Can you give us a little history about the 2nd philosophy? Honestly, offering seconds for canning and sauce is very common in the agriculture community.  We began to offer it about two years ago, simply because we had a pile of fruit that was good, but simply not pretty.  It was really a shame to have it go to waste, so we began to offer it as an option. Last week, there were some weeks we had more orders for 2nd than we had produce to give.  So offering this, has helped farmers get something for the 2nd and helped our customers get a great deal.  

Did something specific spark this idea for your business? Eating healthy is something on everyone’s mind these days. When I was a vendor at the farmers market, I would often buy a case of tomatoes like this, so that my wife can put them away for winter.  We have offered these [2nd produce] for a couple of years. 

Why incorporate 2nd into a business? Offering 2nd to our customers helps the sustainable farmers in the community (which in turn allows them to keep farming, and continue to take steps to become more sustainable).  It finds a home for really good food, that otherwise would be tossed.  And it helps to overall reduce food waste.  

How does this connect to sustainability and food waste? One of my personal goals with our business, is to become a zero food waste facility.  We are very close now, but are not 100% yet.  I, like you, hate to see any food go to waste.  There is no reason why that produce item cannot be donated to a food bank, or converted to animal feed. 

Some companies or organizations are afraid their business will suffer if people start buying more produce at a discount. Does it affect your business? Not really.  I feel that these products are being purchased for a specific purpose.  I also see this as a “perk” for being a customer of ours, and being so connected with local farmers.  

Is there a specific type of produce that can be sold as 2nds? We offer seasonal items.  So we only carry what is in season.  Therefore, the list of ends that is offered is restricted to what we have.  During the mid to late fall and winter you will not see tomatoes, but you will see apples and carrots for example.  The list is not huge primarily because in some case, a product goes from great to really bad in a very short period of time. Offering #2 of a product is fine. It is an item that I believe is still great, just not pretty.  That is different from offering a product that is on the border of being bad.  

What happens to the produce that doesn’t get sold even as 2nds? Is it donated? Really depends.  If the item is sorted out on the farm – typically the item is composted or left in the field. If the item comes to us, [that] item is ether donated to a food shelter – we work with Martha’s Table and the Frederick Rescue Mission, or if it is in bad shape, tossed.  In the near future, produce in this shape, will [be] fed to pigs – we currently don’t have an outlet for this yet.

Do you educate your consumers about being more flexible when buying produce (ex: produce is delicious even if disfigured), or how to know if something is good or bad? With the exception of our #2 – we aim to provide high quality produce.  If an item is a little ugly – yes we will do some education – and for the most part our customers are ok with this.  They are supporting local farms, and understand that not everything will be perfect.  

Whether you do educate them or don’t, do your customers show any interest in this (sending you stories, asking questions, etc)? They show interest by purchasing ends or buying the ugly carrots.  They do not typically share stores, although I am sure I have heard a few over the years.

After starting this 2nds campaign has the behavior or awareness of customers toward wonky food and food waste changed? Not really.  Again we have offered this for a few years now.  In the beginning we might have had some positive reaction to us offering 2nds, but at this point, our customers know that we offer this at certain times of the year.

Are there any figures or percentages that demonstrate how the 2nd campaign impacted your business? It is hard to nail down % of sales increased through this offering.  I can tell you that we typically sell a few thousand pounds of ends each year.  

I want to thank Tony and Hometown Harvest for talking to us and sharing the story of their innovative work. I also want to thank my friend Angela for introducing me to their work!

I personally believe that innovation can come from anywhere, at any time. The best part – once the new habit catches on it becomes the norm. I hope that more companies and stores adopt this practice, and that those who haven’t yet can create similar campaigns and spread awareness. The hope is that these campaigns grow into something more solid and become a tradition, not just a passing trend.

If you have any questions or know other organizations worth a mention, let me know.

Happy innovating!

What your money can’t buy!

VarietiesofVegetables_914x627_A_1024x1024Dough, moolah, smackers, all that cash. Throughout the years we coined many terms to describe money.  And throughout the years we invented many ways to chase after it.

Working 9-5, toiling away in the office, slaving away on the field, killing ourselves with chemicals and polluting our atmosphere with greenhouse gases. Man has believed and bought the illusion he created. We are a world of delusional people. No longer happy, always in search for something to fill a void created by our minds, we are disillusioned by what is ‘real’, what ‘matters’ and by what is fragments of our mind.

But let’s be real – our world is in bad shape. Everyone knows this!

All our charts are plummeting. Environmental and fresh drinking water resources, arable land, even the health performance of the people and the planet is declining. Yet we are like a hamster in a wheel. Running in circles because that’s what we are used to. Afraid that the system will break if we stop this rat race. But will it? After all, this system was created by men and functioning only because we choose to believe it.

Recent studies show that food prices are rising, but our food diversity is declining. Our diets are beginning to look more alike, and the things we choose from seem more limited. Diets become more homogenised as we rely more on only a handful of crops like rice, wheat, potatoes and sugar. In fact, wheat is now a major food in 97% of countries. And local or traditional crops such as millet, rye, yams and cassava are produced and consumed less. So while we consume more calories, declining diversity is a huge concern as it makes our global food system, which is ever interconnected, less resilient to changes.

Of course, money is not edible and if you look at it logically, it’s just paper. But its symbol has become the ultimate dream of a life of luxury, opportunity, fashion, respect and power. Yes – all that money, all that power, and still, it seems we got it all wrong. While money can help put food on your table, it won’t save you, or your family or the planet when mother nature changes its patterns and the fragile food system we built begins to crumble.

Here is a little food for thought. Food trade has been occurring for more than 4,000 years. But it hasn’t been as connected and global as it is today. We no longer have different markets, we have one big global market.

Three-fifths of the fresh produce eaten in the U.S. comes from the West Coast of Mexico, and much of the saltwater fish and shrimp comes from Mexico’s reaches of the Gulf of Mexico, Pacific Ocean and Gulf of California. Mind blowing, right? So what happens when an oil spill pollutes the waters of another country, or a natural disaster wipes out the farms of another nation? We find our own supermarket stocks dwindle and our food options decline, and no amount of money can help us change that.

Time to open up our eyes and figure out ways to change this little mess we’re in. Any suggestions, any ideas?

Let’s share our knowledge, whether you are a scientist, a small farmer or a child, we all can make a difference!

Much love,

P.S. You can get this vegetable poster from here.