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Full Bellies, Full Wallets

Alums’ Produce-Delivery Service Aims to Reduce Hunger

By Alex Stoller

Harvest

Lopsided tomatoes. Misshapen eggplants. Carrots with a funny curve to them.

The still-tasty produce that local farms don’t sell can be delivered to your doorstep—with an equal amount going to a hungry family, through a new business co-founded by three Terps.

Hungry Harvest, launched in the spring, is collecting surplus food from local community-supported agriculture (CSA) operations, then compiling into five- or 10-pound bags for customers, and dropping them off every Sunday. It reduces waste, supports the farms, offers a service to people interested in locally grown food and provides fresh food to those in need, including individuals, families, local food banks and soup kitchens.

“You can sell recovered produce because it’s perfectly salvageable,” says Evan Lutz ’14.

The effort is born out of the Food Recovery Network, Lutz’s fellow co-founder Ben Simon ’14 started at Maryland. That nonprofit is a network of volunteer students who collect unserved food from dining halls, concession stands and fraternity and sorority houses, and transport it to D.C.-area homeless shelters.

PepperSimon is now executive director of the Food Recovery Network, which now has chapters at 100 colleges across 26 states. Since its 2011 founding, it has recovered nearly 450,000 pounds of food, everything from salmon to fruit to French fries.

Then the duo helped start the Recovered Food Community-Supported Agriculture initiative at UMD in the Spring 2014 semester. It sells fruits and vegetables gathered from farms and grocery stores to students and employees on campus. It also donates produce to hungry families.

The new for-profit business is based on those two models, and with the help of their third co-founder, John Zamora, who will be graduating this December, the team targets three audiences: university students, families in Montgomery and Baltimore counties, and larger companies looking to give back to their communities.

“During college I really believed in this concept of doing business for good,” says Lutz. “I saw opportunity to pursue what my passion was.”

They feel strongly about the need: Approximately 24 million Americans live in food deserts, areas where the nearest supermarket is more than a quarter-mile away, the median household income is 185 percent under the federal poverty level, and at least 40 percent of households have no vehicle available. At the same time, 6 billion pounds of produce go to waste in this country annually.

Harvest Bags“I was enchanted with the idea that my food would also feed others,” says Hungry Harvest customer Arlene Montemarano of Silver Spring, who used other CSAs before finding this one. “[This system] looks at the overall food stream in this country and how much of it is wasted.” She says she loves the flavorful produce she gets weekly and knowing her purchases are making a difference in the community.

Hungry Harvest has recovered over 60,000 pounds of food thus far, and it continues to grow. In the next few months, Lutz and his team plan to move their business from a supplier in Southern Maryland to a warehouse in Central Maryland.

“[The warehouse] will make our process of recovering food so much easier,” Lutz says. “It will make sorting and aggregating bags into a much more efficient process to get our customers more timely, fresher and higher-quality produce.”

The team’s vision is to create jobs for people getting back on their feet, to take steps in promoting healthy eating, to continue giving back and to eliminate negative stigmas associated with recovered food.

In the next couple of years, Lutz hopes to establish a food donation program to further advance his business. Families and Hungry Harvest employees will be able to donate food, Lutz and his team will then distribute the donations as part of the produce bags that go to families in need.

Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Strategic Communications for the University of Maryland community weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.