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Hungry Harvest looks to end food waste in Metro Detroit

Nicquel Terry Ellis
The Detroit News
Jess White, right, market manager of Hungry Harvest, delivers a box of produce to subscriber Toby De Simone of Livonia.

Toby De Simone of Livonia is determined to reduce food waste in her community. 

So every weekend, a Hungry Harvest delivery driver drops off a box of fresh fruits and vegetables to her house that local farmers or wholesalers would have otherwise thrown away.

The produce, she said, is often lopsided or discolored yet it still tastes good.    

"Everything I’ve gotten so far has been wonderful and delicious," De Simone said. “They are taking food that isn’t perfect and pretty and beautiful, and they are rescuing it, and they are selling it at a great price.”

Hungry Harvest recently expanded its operations to Metro Detroit. It offers a variety of harvest boxes that range from $15 to $50, according to its website.

The for-profit company rescues produce from being wasted due to surpluses or cosmetic imperfections. Once Hungry Harvest receives the goods from farmers and wholesalers, it boxes up orders and delivers them to customers. 

And for every order Hungry Harvest processes, it donates a portion of the fruits and vegetables to hunger-solving organizations, said founder Evan Lutz.

Lutz, 25, said his venture started off small — a farmer asked his class at the University of Maryland for help selling an overflow of fruits and vegetables in 2013. 

The Baltimore, Maryland, native then set up a farm stand in his dorm basement to sell the goods to other students. Once that operation grew, he began selling to customers throughout Washington, D.C., before expanding to other cities. 

Now, Hungry Harvest operates in nine cities or regions including Washington D.C., Philadelphia, South Florida, south New Jersey, northern Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, the triangle area of North Carolina and Metro Detroit, where it recently expanded its operations. 

Jess White, market manager of Hungry Harvest, watches subscriber Toby De Simone of Livonia unpack a newly delivered box of produce on Saturday.

Lutz said he believes Hungry Harvest is valuable because it not only saves food from being wasted but helps feed needy families. 

"The way we look at our business model is that we are here to make food accessible for everybody," Lutz said. "I really wanted to use one problem to solve the other."

Expanding to Detroit was an easy decision, he said.

It's in one of the largest farming states in the country, and there is substantial food insecurity throughout the city, Lutz said. 

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 39.4 percent of Detroit residents are living in poverty. 

Conversely, 20 percent of produce in the country goes to waste, according to Hungry Harvest. 

Hungry Harvest partnered with the Oak Park-based Forgotten Harvest earlier this month to donate fruits and vegetables. 

Forgotten Harvest then distributes the food to its network of pantries, rescues and missions, spokesman Chris Ivey said. 

"We appreciate Hungry Harvest and their efforts to reduce food waste in the U.S.," Ivey said. "Since June 1, we have been happy to be able to take their surplus food and get it into the hands of Metro Detroiters who need assistance and face food insecurity."

Lutz said Hungry Harvest primarily relies on e-commerce, allowing customers to order produce online and have it delivered. 

The company, which has 50 full-time employees across its nine target metro areas, works with co-packing partners to get boxes assembled for its goods and hires independent contractors to deliver the packages. 

De Simone said she likes how the Hungry Harvest mobile app sends her alerts when her produce is out for delivery and allows her to track the driver's location. 

Her recent orders have included a personal watermelon, oranges, asparagus, apples, avocados and peaches. 

"Just their whole mission of saving food, it makes me really happy, and I want to be part of it," De Simone said. 

Lutz said his company has rescued more than 8 million pounds of food from going to waste and donated some 750,000 pounds of produce to organizations. 

His goal is to expand Hungry Harvest to 30 more cities in the next four years. 

"It's very fulfilling and very satisfying," Lutz said. "We really think we are just getting started, and we have a lot of room to grow."

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Twitter: @NicquelTerry