Hungry Harvest is Turning 5!
In honor of our Golden Birthday on 5/5, we asked our founder and CEO, Evan, to tell us his favorite golden moments of the past 5 years.
Thanks so much for helping us get to 5 and for growing the impact we celebrate in every one of these memories!
Our First Deliveries
Growing up, I looked at entrepreneurship as an aspirational, inaccessible dream. With Hungry Harvest’s first 37 deliveries, all of that dreaming became a reality. More importantly, it marked the beginning of a business that has created 50+ jobs, saved millions of pounds of food from going to waste, and fed tens of thousands of people.
But the journey to those first 37 deliveries was a long one. A culmination of lessons learned throughout my life.
I am fortunate to come from a family that cooked at least 6 nights a week with one simple rule: nothing goes to waste. Scraps were composted, my family ate everything on our plates, and leftovers from the previous night were almost always part of dinner. My dedication to ending food waste started at the family table.
I remember spending middle and high school years volunteering frequently with hunger-focused charities in Baltimore. For a few summers, I spent one day per week volunteering at the Maryland Food Bank and serving food at Our Daily Bread. This exposed me to the seriousness of hunger faced by my fellow Baltimoreans and sparked my interest in trying to help find a solution to fight hunger in my community.
When I was a teenager, I became fascinated by the concept of social entrepreneurship. I learned about business models like Patagonia, Toms, Greyston Bakery, and others. I became borderline obsessed with the thought process of how business could be used as a force for good if the incentives are aligned.
I made a promise to myself at an early age that no matter how tough entrepreneurship would be - given that the chances of failing are high, the workload is tremendous relative to other jobs, and the potential personal financial consequences of failing - that I would give it a try. I cared about making an impact on a grand scale, and entrepreneurship was the vehicle I committed to use.
I attended the University of Maryland with a primary goal in mind: starting a social enterprise during or after college. In a senior year class, I seized an opportunity to start a socially-minded project by selling a local farmer’s ‘surplus’ produce to college students. I had no idea the extent of food waste that existed on farms, but thought it might make a difference for this particular farmer and the students to whom I was providing access to healthy foods.
I started selling produce in 5 lb bags for $5 in a simple, 10-student pilot program. With surprising success, in 6 months the program grew to 500 weekly customers.
In May of 2014, I officially launched Hungry Harvest. We made our first deliveries to 37 customers on June 23rd, 2014.
Looking back - I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have any experience in produce, logistics, management, marketing, assembly lines, or entrepreneurship in general. I just knew I was passionate about making a legitimate difference in the food system. And those 37 deliveries proved we could turn that passion into a reality.
2. 2016: Our First Produce in a SNAP Market
The goal of Hungry Harvest is to build an inclusive food system, one where people are not left out and food is not left behind. The model of how we’ve fulfilled that vision has evolved over the past 5 years. I knew upon starting Hungry Harvest that our first priority had to be focused on getting the basics of our business to work.
When we began delivering produce 5 years ago, we didn’t realize the intricacies of how many people are affected by various forms of food insecurity, and how that food insecurity affects their lives.
We started with a simple plan - for every bag we delivered (we started delivering in bags instead of boxes), we would donate a couple pounds to those in need.
We soon realized that this solution was not fulfilling our vision completely. While there are many food insecure people who rely on donations, there are also many people who have some income, but don’t have financial or geographic access to healthy food, yet are making too much to qualify for federal aid in the form of food stamps. 30% of the food insecure population in South Florida do not qualify for federal aid, for example. This statistic is nearly universal in various geographies.
This portion of food insecurity is ‘hidden’ - people with full time jobs are not the first image that comes to mind when one thinks of hunger or food insecurity. Yet it’s the truth for millions of people.
I knew we had to innovate to address this portion of the population that is being largely ignored by the government, for-profits, and nonprofits.
We knew that this initiative would not be a revenue center for Hungry Harvest - in fact it would likely cost us money. But if we were going to build an inclusive food system, we needed to spend our energy and resources towards that in a real way.
The team and I sat down and came up with a pilot program for an initiative called Produce In a SNAP. We would employ a simple model - selling produce at cost in areas of high food insecurity. We’d partner with schools, hospitals, and community centers to meet people where they are - in a convenient location that is a community gathering place.
We launched Produce In A SNAP at one school in west Baltimore in August of 2016. Since then, we’ve grown to feed over 7,000 people living in food insecure areas while expanding to over 20 markets around Baltimore, Philadelphia, Frederick, and soon all of Hungry Harvest’s other delivery areas.
3. 2017: Our Expansion to South Florida
Our vision for Hungry Harvest is to create impact in many locales, not just one. We’re proud of the work we started in Maryland, Washington, DC, Virginia and Philadelphia, but food waste and hunger are unfortunately problems that persist throughout the whole United States.
The goal of the first 18 months of our business was to create a replicable model that could create serious impact in almost any major city.
We made the decision to expand to South Florida in early 2017. We chose Miami because of its proximity to the rich growing region of the southeast, and how much impact we could have on farms and suppliers in one of the largest growing regions in the country. This was the first expansion in our business’ history outside of the Mid-Atlantic, and we knew we were in for a journey.
Replicating our business model over 1,000 miles away was no easy feat. We encountered challenges with logistics and packaging, since the temperature was warmer than we were used to in the DMV. We had challenges hiring, since we were not well-connected in South Florida, at least at first. Finding a co-packer, a produce company that assembles our boxes, was not easy. And getting the word out to sign up our first customers proved difficult, as we had very low brand awareness.
Overcoming all of these challenges to launch in August 2017 was a team effort that we’re still proud of to this day. South Florida remains one of our best and fastest growing markets. The learnings we gleaned from expanding to South Florida have allowed us to expand to Raleigh and Detroit in the past year and a half. Our next expansion is primed for Charlotte in 2019.
The fact that a community so far away from our home base, who had never heard of our brand before, has embraced our concept, proves the universality of the message of fighting food waste and hunger. People from across the country resonate with those problems, and want to take an active approach to solving them through buying their fruits and vegetables with Hungry Harvest. Miami was the testing ground for this theory.
4. 2018: Our Growth to 50 Total Employees
Hungry Harvest started as an idea in a classroom. It evolved into a full-time project for me after college. I lived at home and did not take a salary for two years when starting the business so that we could invest our dollars into hiring more people and expanding the concept.
By early 2016, we had a team of 4 people running the entire operation. We didn’t have an HR person, or anyone to do the finances. We only had one person for logistics, one for procurement and operations, and myself and our COO, who took over everything else. I was in charge of marketing, the website, press, business development, speaking engagements, and events, and our COO was in charge of creating the systems for our business to operate - customer service, innovating for new product features such as the Never List and customization, tracking retention and engagement, gross margins, and other key business functions. Our team was small, and we all wore many hats. We were working long hours, weekends, and holidays.
In 2018, we reached 50 full-time employees, making good salaries and benefits while working reasonable hours. We have departments with experienced leaders. We have quarterly planning meetings. We project finances 5 years in advance. And we’re poised, with this team, to change the food system in ways that didn’t seem possible 5 years ago.
This might seem like the normal course of business for any established organization. For me, having an organized, happy team of 50+ people seemed like a distant dream that would never come to fruition.
Today we bond over a love of our careers, produce, and our shared mission. We laugh every day. I’m very proud of the culture we’ve created and the important work we’ll continue to do together.
5. 2019: Our Mission: 15 Million Pounds of Produce Recovered
Our planet is facing an existential crisis in terms of climate change. The IPCC report released last year says we have 12 years to make a serious shift in our behavior.
Floods, droughts, ‘once in 100 year’ storms, and other catastrophic weather-related events are going to increase, and get worse.
The global temperature is correlated to greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere. An increase in GHGs has and will lead to the loss of our environment, burdensome financial consequences, and ultimately will cost lives.
Food waste is a major contributor to this problem. If food waste were a country, it would be the third largest contributor to climate change behind the US and China.
There are 20 billion pounds of produce that go to waste each year in the US - creating harmful GHGs like CO2 and methane.
Research suggests that this number is in fact very low - Lisa Johnson of NC State says that number may be underreported by 60% based on her in-the-field research.
We need here-and-now solutions to combat this urgent problem.
We’re proud to be one of those solutions. Together, we have recovered 15 million pounds of produce from going to waste since we started delivering, a milestone we reached just last week. That means we’ve eliminated 720 million gallons of water waste and reduced 45 million pounds of GHGs - that’s like pulling 4300 cars off the road for an entire year.
We’ve been doing this for 5 years, and we’re just getting started. As our dream evolves over the next 5 years, on our 10th birthday, we’d like to look back and say we’ve reduced 100,000,000 pounds of produce from going to waste.