Inside the Effort to Reduce Food Waste in Delaware

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Food waste is a daunting problem across the nation. Here, local experts discuss a few ways we can help reduce waste in Delaware.

People need it to survive. Farmers and companies produce tons of it. And a shockingly large amount of it ends up in the dumpster.

As much as 30% to 40% of the food supply in the United States goes uneaten each year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates. Counting calories, that came to about 141 trillion wasted in 2010, or about half the daily food needs of every person in the country, every day.

“We’ve just developed a food system that wastes a lot of food, quite frankly, and I don’t think that’s okay,” says Evan Lutz, the founder of Hungry Harvest, which rescues produce and sells it directly to consumers.

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Hungry Harvest

It’s not just that leftover casserole covered in mold in the back of your refrigerator, although that’s part of the problem.

According to the United State Department of Agriculture (USDA), food is wasted along the entire chain, from processing to transportation and storage, with stores throwing out imperfect produce and people buying and cooking more than they need.

This might leave Delaware residents feeling a little helpless. Sure, you can cook a little less and save a cauliflower or two, but you can’t control how food is stored or shipped. The good news is companies like Hungry Harvest, and even the Food Bank of Delaware, are offering ways for people to directly fight food waste.

 

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Hungry Harvest tries to intercept food on the front end, buying produce that would otherwise go to waste from farms and wholesalers around the mid-Atlantic, Lutz says. “Nothing we sell has ever touched the inside of a retail store.”

Based across the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, the company has delivered that food to customers in northern Delaware for some time and recently expanded to include the whole state.

“There’s a lot of reasons why food goes to waste,” Lutz says. “Apples grow too big or too small, and eggplants grow in funny shapes.” Or sugar snap peas rub against the plant and end up with scarred pods. “Retail customers usually won’t take the produce that doesn’t look quite like the standardized produce we’re used to in the grocery store.”

Also, sometimes food ends up as surplus when, say, a retailer cancels an order. “So a buyer could cancel on avocados because they’re too ripe,” Lutz explains. But Hungry Harvest loves ripe avocados: “We’re able to get produce in the hands of our customers just a couple days after we receive it.”

The produce available varies by season, and customers can order online and get delivery to their door via UPS.

Another way to fight food waste is to catch it on the other side, from retailers. The Food Bank of Delaware just launched a new app, 302 Food Rescue, which lets people volunteer to pick up food from retailers, restaurants, caterers, bakeries and more and deliver it to food pantries, spokeswoman Kim Turner says. It’s basically Uber for surplus food.

The Food Bank has been working to rescue food for a number of years, sending out its own drivers to supermarkets, Turner says. This new app will not only help the Food Bank by getting more people involved but could also let it save more kinds of food.

“The ultimate goals are to deliver food from the landfill and get it into the hands of those who need it most.”
—Kim Turner, 302 Food Rescue

“I don’t think we’ve really been able to tap in to the bakeries, the restaurants, caterers…mainly because that food might be available at a time when we don’t have drivers out on the road in the evening,” Turner continues. “So I think this will open us up to being able to rescue even more food.”

It’s bigger than preventing waste. “We know that the people that we serve here at the food bank, they oftentimes have higher rates of diabetes, high blood pressure, a lot of diet-related conditions,” Turner says.

Bayhealth hospital system is the main sponsor for the app, and the American Heart Association also collaborated. The idea is that getting better food to low-income people in Delaware will proactively help their health.

These combined efforts aren’t going to solve all the problems in the American food system, but they’re also not peanuts. The Food Bank estimates it has rescued more than 2.2 million pounds of food so far. Lutz says Hungry Harvest has rescued about 30 million pounds, and it also donates its own leftover produce to food banks.

“I wish Hungry Harvest didn’t have to exist, right?” Lutz says. “And we just had a perfectly efficient food system. But that’s not the case.”

“The ultimate goals,” Turner says, “are to deliver food from the landfill and get it into the hands of those who need it most.”

To support the community fridge project on GoFundMe, visit https://gf.me/u/yk3iqj

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