If you are imagining half-rotten tomatoes or wilted lettuce, think again. Lutz explains that the criteria for produce to be sold can be unusually strict, leaving a lot of tasty fruits and vegetables with high nutritional value behind. Many items are rejected for minor aesthetic imperfections.
"Maybe an apple is too big. It's not like it's bruised or bad and moldy or anything like that. It's just too big," Lutz explains.
Food loss can also occur because of logistical issues such as large orders being canceled at the last minute or farms growing more fruit than they can sell.
According to the USDA, unused produce is the biggest source of waste in landfills today. Hungry Harvest's research indicates that in the United States, 40 percent of food goes to waste, leaving people to go hungry. Lutz, who has had an interest in entrepreneurship since he was a boy, decided to tackle the issue when he started selling rescued fruits and vegetables to fellow students while studying business at the University of Maryland. "I set up a stand, and it immediately took off," Lutz says. "I had 500 customers per week after a few months."
By May 2014, he founded Hungry Harvest. Soon thereafter, he piqued the interest of master entrepreneur Robert Herjavec when Lutz pitched his business on the ABC show Shark Tank. Herjavec ended up investing $100,000 for a 10 percent stake in the 23-year-old's company.
The way it works is straightforward: Customers sign up for weekly harvest boxes that are delivered straight to their doorstep. Boxes range from $17 to $55 per week, depending upon what you choose to get. (Organic harvests, for example, begin at $30.) You can also choose add-ons from local vendors that vary weekly. For every harvest purchased, Hungry Harvest donates fresh fruits and vegetables to support the hungry. In South Florida, the company has partnered with the Lotus House Women's Shelter.
"We really believe that produce is a right, not a privilege," Lutz says. "So we want everyone to have access to healthy, affordable food. Not only that, but with every box somebody gets, they're reducing about ten pounds of produce from going to waste."
Lutz does not define his company as a CSA (community-supported agriculture) — which allows consumers to buy produce directly from local farms — but rather as a produce delivery service. "We're different for a few reasons," he says. "We start at just $17 per week. If you have $17 and an address, you're our customer."
The service also delivers straight to customers' homes, so they don't have to go to a farm or a drop-off location as with CSAs. Purchasing Hungry Harvest's fruits and veggies also helps local farmers. "A great year for farmers is when they break even," Lutz says. "A lot of their profit and loss is actually made in how much produce goes to waste. By helping them reduce their waste, we're also helping these farmers out a lot."
Lutz thought Hungry Harvest, which has a strong Mid-Atlantic presence (Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C.), was a natural fit for South Florida. "There's a ton of growers in South Florida that we wanted to help out," he says.
Della Heiman, CEO of the Wynwood Yard and Della Test Kitchen; and chef Julie Frans, the Yard's culinary and community director, are both advocates of locally sourced, socially responsible food consumption. They will host a launch event at the Yard this Wednesday, October 4, from 6 to 8 p.m.
"I think Hungry Harvest's launch in Miami is so exciting," Frans says. "Its mission addresses so many issues I am passionate about: food waste, sustainability, getting healthy fruits and veggies to underserved families and children. They are also contributing to Lotus House, our neighbor here in Wynwood. Then, on top of it, it's just amazing to be able to get farm-fresh veggies delivered weekly to your door in Miami at what I think is a really affordable price."
Hungry Harvest Launch. 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday, October 4, at the Wynwood Yard, 56 NW 29th St., Miami; 305-447-8678; thewynwoodyard.com. Admission is free. Attendees will be able to build their own complimentary Hungry Harvest box at the Yard's pop-up farmers' market and enjoy small bites made by Chef Frans. New customers can use the code HUNGRYMIAMI to save $10 on their first order.