Hungry Harvest recovers produce from going to waste and creates boxes customers can order weekly for free delivery.
When you’re in the produce section, picking out fruits and vegetables, like it or not, aware of it or not, you’re probably judging the ones you ultimately pick based on their appearance.
The ones left behind for the sin of being the wrong shade of green or because they have suffered the indignity of slight bruising get, well, left behind.
That’s where Evan Lutz comes in.
Lutz is the CEO and co-founder of Hungry Harvest, a company that recovers produce from going to waste and creates boxes customers can order weekly for free delivery. The boxes come in a variety of sizes — from mini to full — and range in price from $15 to $55, depending on which option — including organic — you choose. And in a Toms/ Warby Parker kind of philanthropic mission, for every box of produce delivered, another is given to someone in need.
To date, 300,000 pounds of produce, sourced from both growers and wholesalers, have been recovered and 100,000 pounds have been given to the needy since the enterprise’s launch in 2014.
It started in Lutz’s home city of Baltimore and has recently expanded to other cities, including Philadelphia, which Lutz said was “next on the map.” He’s been working on building a team in Philadelphia as it continues to grow in the city, and hopes to deliver to 1,000 people here by the end of the year.
Growing this business is somewhat of a dream realized for Lutz.
“My entire life, I’ve wanted to become an entrepreneur,” said Lutz, 23, who received his undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland Robert H. Smith School of Business in 2014.
Hungry Harvest’s mission is to reduce food waste, which has long been a problem in America. According to a 2012 study by the Natural Resources Defense Council, 40 percent of food in the U.S. today goes uneaten — the equivalent of $165 billion each year. Much of the reason for that stems from “culling,” the report said, which is the process of removing products post-harvest because their appearance is not up to standard, though they are still perfectly edible.
While a student, Lutz started working with Food Recovery Network, the largest student movement against food waste and hunger in America, according to its website.
He worked with the organization to set up a stand on campus where students could buy five pounds of produce for $5. While it started small, the number of those who participated grew to more than 400 students buying produce each week after about 10 weeks.
This experience introduced him to the idea of a home delivery model for that same kind of concept.
On June 29, 2014, Hungry Harvest made its first deliveries. Today, Lutz said his company has 2,300 active customers.
“The way we see it, we’re just getting started,” he said.
For him, Hungry Harvest is a way to do his part about something he cares about.
“I’m really passionate about eating healthy and about reducing food from going to waste and making change in the community,” Lutz said. To him, the ability to effect paradigm shifts is the real power of business. “Business is a wonderful tool and has the opportunity to make an impact.”
Certain business leaders also helped the organization get off its feet.
In January, Lutz appeared on Shark Tank on ABC to promote Hungry Harvest.
“The word I use to describe it all the time is exhilarating,” he said. Not to say he wasn’t nervous — he definitely was, he added with a laugh.
Another applicable word to describe the experience would be “successful.” He walked away with a $100,000 investment in Hungry Harvest from “shark” Robert Herjavec, who now also has a 10 percent stake in the business — an offer that doubled what Lutz was asking for.
Hungry Harvest allows Lutz to take tikkun olam into his own hands. From a young age, his parents instilled in him the Jewish ideal of repairing the world.
“My parents taught me that giving is always better than receiving,” he said. “This ships right in line with changing the world and saving the world. My parents did a good job in instilling those values of giving and donating — I wanted to make a career out of it.”
He’s essentially doing two things at once that he cares about: “One is business and building things, and two is giving back.”
Through Hungry Harvest, Lutz and his team are not only giving produce a second chance, but also people.
The company has partnered with various homeless shelters and soup kitchens to help people get back on their feet and give them job experience they can use on their resume.
He recalled working with one man who had been in jail for 10 years; while in prison, he did “every certification you could imagine.” Working with Hungry Harvest allowed him the time and experience to eventually save up enough money to get his own apartment.
Being able to provide work experience for others is an “empowering thing,” Lutz said. He is planning on offering the same opportunities in Philadelphia.
“Being an entrepreneur is not an easy task,” he admitted. “Some days, it feels like this is the best day ever; sometimes, it feels like the world is coming to an end. It’s been an awesome roller coaster ride. We come to work every day with a smile on our face and ready to give back and make a difference.”
The commitment to giving back is what he think attracts people to Hungry Harvest’s services — other than the food.
“We’re a produce delivery service on a mission,” he said. “Our value is our social value that’s infused into our business model. We sell produce with purpose. We feel the need to give back to society — that’s why a majority of our customers sign up. They believe in our mission and our cause.”
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