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!

Natural vs Organic

It’s Friday, start of the weekend! After celebrating your freedom from work, you are likely to wake up on Saturday and find your fridge empty.

So you will head to your nearest store, most likely a big supermarket, offering a variety of produce down endless aisles. Not only do you have to debate what items you need and what items you buy for pleasure, but you now have to remember that it’s the new year and you promised yourself to be healthy.

You pay closer attention to the items, some have weird ingredients, most with names you can’t pronounce. Some have sell by and best by dates, which you remember from our previous post and easily get past it. But then you stumble upon ‘natural’ and ‘organic’.

Knowing that being all natural is a good thing, you start wondering, but which one is better? Organic is definitely more expensive, but does price determine quality? If you live in America, the answer is – YES.

Apparently natural does not mean the product doesn’t have GMO’s, nor that it’s antibiotics free. And no, it doesn’t mean it was grown without hormones and toxic pesticides. So you wonder….why in the world does it say – natural? There is definitely nothing natural about GMO’s and toxic chemicals.

Well in America, natural means that maybe, just maybe, your produce has low levels of environmental pollution….that’s about it. No, really….that’s about it. Here’s a chart to prove it. Crazy right?

Screen shot 2014-01-31 at 7.46.40 PM

Somehow, knowing this you start feeling more like a puppet on the strings of money making corporations. It even makes you reconsider dictionary terms for words, such as natural – “Biology: Not produced or changed artificially; not conditioned; not altered, treated, or disguised.” (Dictionary)

Looks like someone got the definition of all ‘natural‘ wrong. Looks like it may have been you. And now that you know, what are you going to do about it? Hopefully share with everyone so that we stop being played by corporations.

Written by Hokuma Karimova


We Need Food Diversity!

Screen Shot 2013-04-19 at 7.54.13 PMThe problem of food waste runs deep. We talk a lot about tons of good food going to waste and the loss it has on our natural resources, money and energy. We also mention that it is wrong to waste so much good food while so many live below the poverty line.

In the EU the statistics are staggering. 90 million tons of food is wasted every year as 79 million citizens live below the poverty line. The ´specific marketing standards´alone are responsible for 30-40% of produce being tossed away because they don´t look a certain way.

One thing that gets left out of this discussion is food diversity! What we fail to understand is that all fruits and vegetables have different varieties. For instance, avocado has about 1,000 different variations, apples about 7,500.

The standards that EU places on food and vegetables before selling them on the market greatly cuts down this diversity. Farmers that grow this food are left with huge losses because they can´t sell their crops on the market. This makes our food system less adaptable to changing climates.

The International Institute for Environment and Development published a 2011 study called ¨Participatory Research and On-Farm Management of Agricultural Biodiversity in Europe¨. The study outlines negative effects of the lack of diversity. They warn ¨that the biological diversity that forms the basis of food supplies and agriculture’s ability to adapt to climate change is disappearing because the dominant policies favour large corporations and uniformity over small-scale farmers and variety.¨

This means that big corporations that have access to the dominant sort of seeds make money and gain control over what type of food we see in the supermarket. Small farmers are pushed out of the market either because they don´t have money to pay for expensive patented genes, or they don´t have access to propriety technologies that are owned by large corporations.

As our climate keeps changing and weather patterns begin to have more effect on the food we buy, the actions we take now could determine whether in 5 years we can still afford to eat nutritious food.  

To make sure we can all afford good food in the coming years, sign the EU! Bring back Good Food! petition and tell EU to stop putting ´standards´on our food. Together we can save our food system from collapse.


Restaurant that gives free food?

gleaners kitchenMaximus Thaler, a Tufts University student, wants to feed people, create a space for art, and bring communities together by opening a new underground restaurant and grocery store – The Gleaners’ Kitchen.

This  place will always have hot coffee, tea and lentil soup. At 6pm they will serve food to those who are hungry at no cost, because as Thaler puts it “food is a fundamental right, and should be shared freely with all”.

But this is not just an idea, it will soon be a reality thanks to the amazing people who supported this project on Kickstarter, a page that allows people to post their projects and receive donations from those who are interested in supporting it.

Such a restaurant and grocery store is a creative way to solving our global food waste and hunger problem. Just consider this fact for a second, an average supermarket throws away $2,300 worth of perfectly edible food every single night. In a country such as the United States where 1 in 6 people face hunger, it seems completely wrong!

To learn more about this project, check out their video. We hope you get inspired!

Local iniciatives are sometimes the best option.

A couple of weeks ago we have posted an entry about a legislation that exists in the USA for more than 16 years now. Even though it is a federal law, it didn’t meet the expectations that where given to it. Many entrepreneurs from the food sector don’t even know about the fact that they can give away food without taking responsibility for it. It is not clear why this law is not promoted in the right way. For example we have talked with one of Costco store managers, who told us during a conversation about food waste, that he had never heard of such a law. It was a shock for us. Both of us (Hokuma and I) thought that there is a huge need for spontaneous initiatives, like Say No To Food Waste, in order to start making a change to our food system.

At the end of the past year we heard a story about a local initiative in Belgium. Frédéric Daerden the mayor of the municipality of Herstal imposed on 12 local supermarkets to donate their excessive stock to food banks. Moreover, if any one of them refuses to comply with the new requirements, they will have its environmental permit taken away. “The project starts from the observation that on one hand there is a need to supply food banks, and on the other there is surplus food. We wanted to provide an answer to this problem at the local level, by fighting against waste and at the same time strengthening local solidarity” said the MEP Frédéric Daerden. The quality manager of Carrefour Belgium, Mr. Léglise said, “Our policy is to systematically give surplus food to associations that are part of the food banks. The proposal of the mayor of Herstal was not a problem, as it also reduces the cost of waste disposal.”

This great initiative has already been submitted for revision to the European Commison. As Frédéric Daerden is an EU deputy it is more probable that it will find an easier way to be implemented on a higher scale. It is another example of how local initiative can spread beyond a given region. Politicians all around the world should follow this fine Belgian man’s initiative. Eventually the phrase “Act locally, Think globally” is true and this news is another proof of that. Convince your local deputies, talk to them, they do have much power but it takes will to encourage it!



Posted by Piotr Wielezynski