This Company Fights Hunger and Food Waste in NC With Produce Boxes

This Company Fights Hunger and Food Waste in NC With Produce Boxes

North Carolina has a food problem. It’s not that there’s not enough. The state produces plenty to feed its 10.5 million residents. In fact, nearly 1.2 million tons of food goes to waste each year in North Carolina. Yet somehow, one in seven people in the Tar Heel State deals with food insecurity.

Hungry Harvest, a produce subscription service, wants to tackle both of those problems at once.

How Hungry Harvest Came to Be

Evan Lutz was a student at the University of Maryland when he developed the idea for Hungry Harvest. His idea was to work with farmers who had otherwise good produce that didn’t meet visual standards in normal market channels.

“After some research, he discovered that most farmers have this problem,” said Bart Creasman, Senior Markets Manager for Hungry Harvest. “He was able to successfully market and sell these items on campus, and the idea for the business was born.”

Hungry Harvest is growing roots in North Carolina.
Image courtesy of Hungry Harvest.

Soon after, the business turned into a subscription and delivery service based in Baltimore. While Lutz started Hungry Harvest strictly a business venture, his experiences in the food industry raised some questions.

“Early on, Evan discovered a troubling paradox while growing the business in Baltimore,” said Creasman. “All of this food was going to waste. Over 20 billion pounds per year, while food access was a huge problem within the city.”

Creasman said that this realization led Lutz to make fighting food insecurity part of his plan. Then, Hungry Harvest found itself in the national spotlight in 2016.

“Eventually he was able to bring the idea to national attention on Shark Tank, garnering an investment from Robert Herjavec,” said Creasman. Since the company’s appearance on Shark Tank, it has expanded to 10 states, including North Carolina.

Bringing Hungry Harvest to North Carolina

Creasman said that even before the company began offering its service in North Carolina, it was already involved with the state.

“We expanded to the Triangle in early 2018,” he said. “North Carolina is a huge agricultural state. Before Hungry Harvest was operating here, we were already sourcing a lot of produce from the area.”

North Carolina grows a lot of food. Farms in North Carolina produced nearly 3% of the entire country’s food. In 2019, the state ranked ninth in the United States for agricultural receipts. Yet that same year it also ranked 10th in the country for the highest levels of food insecurity.

Hungry Harvest prepares to distribute produce boxes in North Carolina.
Image courtesy of Hungry Harvest.

That discrepancy got the attention of Hungry Harvest and brought them to the state. “It only made sense to expand the impact of our mission to a state that grows so much food and cares greatly about how that food is sourced,” said Creasman.

While the Triangle was the first stop for Hungry Harvest in North Carolina, they soon added Charlotte to their footprint.” Due to the success of the expansion to the Triangle, in early fall of 2019 we decided to expand to Charlotte,” said Creasman. “We found many similarities in terms of education, civic-mindedness, attention to sustainability, and great pride in the local food scene.”

Creasman said that customers in Charlotte have diverted more than 120,000 pounds of food from landfills in the last year alone.

What Hungry Harvest Hopes to Achieve

The company wants to use its subscription boxes to make an impact on food disparity in North Carolina and the United States. Creasman said raising awareness of the issues is a critical step in alleviating those problems.

“People should know about the sheer volume of food that goes to waste behind the scenes,” he said. “Fields and pallets of perfectly good food never even make it to the shelves.”

In normal industry channels, buyers reject produce for visual defects like shape, color or general appearance. Much of this produce is otherwise the same as the fruits and vegetables that make their way to consumers.

Image courtesy of Hungry Harvest.

“Food waste isn’t just leftovers you don’t eat or veggies you never use that rot in the fridge,” said Creasman. “But it’s ingrained in our system that prioritizes produce that fits a certain aesthetic standard.”

While Hungry Harvest and other “ugly produce” companies have become more popular, Creasman said there is still a lot of ground to cover.

“The key is education,” he said. “How can we convince consumers that a twisted carrot or a misshapen apple is just as tasty and nutritious as the perfect ones they find at the grocery store? How can they trust us to show up every week with their food in perfect condition? We just need to keep doing the basics very well and hope that the product speaks for itself.”

Hungry Harvest and Its Mission in North Carolina

In addition to reducing food waste, the company also works with its market areas to fight hunger. That includes the Triangle, where Hungry Harvest has been active with hunger-relief efforts. This summer, the company donated more than 1,500 of its produce boxes to families with children in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro school system. Now, it’s partnered with PORCH, a hunger relief organization in Carrboro.

Hungry Harvest also has partnered with programs in other parts of North Carolina. They’ve worked with groups in Raleigh and Durham, and they plan to increase their presence in Charlotte. In other words, more of the same mission for Creasman and Hungry Harvest.

“We plan to keep expanding our footprint to recover more produce, serve more communities and support more hunger-fighting initiatives,” Creasman said.

Want to learn more about North Carolina’s agricultural industry? Stay tuned to our Business section for regular updates on who’s working near you!