|Harvesting the hungry and food insecure|
|Published Friday, February 1, 2019|
By the time you’re massaging cantaloupes in the grocery store or squeezing avocados to check for ripeness, that produce has gone through several rounds of inspections. What you’re seeing in the grocery store is like pageant produce – you’re only seeing the best produce in its finest outerwear that has been shined up and ready for the show.
So what happens to those ugly, shriveled blueberries and the misshapen eggplant? A lot of it ends up in the trash heap.
That’s where Hungry Harvest comes in. The produce delivery service specializes in so-called “ugly produce” to keep perfectly good food out of the landfill while also helping consumers to save money.
“Grocery stores have pretty high aesthetic standards for what they carry,” explained Bart Creasman, the senior market manager for Hungry Harvest in the Triangle. “About 20 percent of all produce grown ends up going uneaten.”
Creasman said that many suppliers don’t want to incur the cost of shipping the produce to another place after it is rejected by grocery stores or other sellers. Therefore, it just sits in a warehouse and then gets thrown out.
Sometimes, the problems are as simple as apples being too small or blueberries being packaged in the wrong container.
A college student founded Hungry Harvest in Baltimore as a senior project, and the company expanded to the North Carolina market last January. The company also operates in Philadelphia, Miami and Detroit.
Now the company is expanding again, helping to serve low-income populations with the fruit that even it isn’t able to use in its delivery service. “We’ve been donating, which is great, but we wanted to create something that could address food access where it lives,” Creasman said.
The company is offering what it calls “Produce in a Snap,” or PIAS, which sells affordable bags of produce at farmer’s market-style kiosks. Hungry Harvest started the program in Baltimore last year, but decided to bring it to the Triangle after being contacted by a Duke medical student.
Jackée Okoli was a first-year medical student when she and four classmates started Fresh Produce in 2016 to help patients with food insecurity. Two years later, she became a customer of Hungry Harvest to try to make it easier on herself to eat healthy by having the food delivered. Then she reached out to the company about creating a partnership to help the patients at Duke and others who needed better access to affordable produce.
“I didn’t really see the need for it until I couldn’t get to the grocery store,” she said of the program. “I felt like a hypocrite trying to convince other people to eat healthy, and I wasn’t doing that myself.”
Thanks to her outreach, the PIAS program made its debut at the Duke Outpatient Clinic last week. At the stand, customers can buy an eight- to 10-pound bag of pre-selected produce for just $7. Creasman said that is about 50 percent less than what people would pay for the same amount in the grocery store. And the company sells the produce “almost at cost.”
PIAS will accept SNAP benefits, which further helps those who might not have access to healthy options. And, Creasman points out, the low price helps those who may need the assistance but who still make too much money to qualify for government help.
“Fresh produce is good for healthy diets, but it’s hard to access in the face of so many nutritionally devoid options,” he said.
PIAS will be at the Duke Outpatient Clinic and open to the public every Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The kiosk will be located in the plaza between the Duke Medical Pavilion and the Mary Duke Biddell Trent Semans Center for Health Education.
Okoli notes that patients served by the Fresh Produce program can shop at the kiosk, though they will still receive their twice-a-month produce delivery.
“Those patients will continue to get free produce because obviously it’s a struggle for them, but we wanted to start the SNAP market because we felt like there would be people who are not food insecure or who are not SNAP or EBT eligible who could also use the help,” she said.
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