‘Ugly’ produce? Don’t waste it, taste it
When picking through produce at a grocery store or farmers market, one’s first inclination might be to look for only the best.
That mindset, however, can contribute to a great deal of waste, as some consumers decline to purchase foods that don’t meet the “pretty” test.
Imperfect looking food, though, can be perfectly fine for both one’s table and palate, experts say.
And some farmers and groups are cleverly marketing those foods to help prevent waste.
412 Food Rescue began its Ugly CSA (community supported agriculture) program in 2016, in partnership with Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance. The effort seeks to create new markets for unsellable produce, whether it lacks “cosmetic standards” or is surplus, according to its website.
For 12 weeks from July to September, it offers subscribers a $20 weekly box of “ugly” produce and locally sourced items, available for pick up at 10 Allegheny County sites.
What began as a pilot project with 40 shares in 2016 is expected to reach 250 subscribers this year, says Hana Uman, program director for special programs and projects with 412 Food Rescue.
“It really was to see if people were interested in CSAs like this, and does it work for farmers,” Uman says.
“It furthers our mission, and supports local farmers. This extends their market,” she says.
A typical weekly box may contain a variety of fruits — often peaches, pears and melons — and vegetables — greens, potatoes, onions, carrots, tomatoes, radishes.
Subscribers also sometimes can sample vendor products, Uman says, from soap to cheese to yogurt.
Perhaps the products are surplus, or a flavor was not exactly what the vendor sought.
“We do survey our subscribers every year. People want to support their local food system, local farms, and 412 Food Rescue. And they want to reduce food waste. More and more people are learning … it’s a big environmental issue,” she says.
Don’t waste — taste
“Ugly produce” movement advocates say misshapen potatoes and knobby eggplants are examples of good food that’s wasted, based on looks alone.
Numerous subscriber services have launched in recent years, providing “rescued” fruits and vegetables to consumers. One online delivery service, Misfitsmarket.com, ships customers weekly “looks ugly, tastes amazing” food boxes. According to its website, most produce comes from Pennsylvania and New Jersey farms.
Fruits and vegetables that may not pass the “eyeball” test can provide taste and nutrition through sauces, stews and smoothies, some providers suggest.
Alliance aids all
About 30 regional farmers work with Penn’s Corner Farm Alliance, general manager Jeralyn Beach says.
Farmers provide “seconds,” she says, such as small or misshappen peppers or apples, for the “ugly” boxes.
“It’s a great benefit for our farmers to have that outlet. Sometimes it’s literally just surplus,” Beach adds.
“Even some of our cheese makers had cheese that does not quite meet their standards. It’s perfectly safe, and it’s made its way into the ‘ugly’ CSAs,” she says.
Feeding from the farm
Greg Boulos and his wife, Jennifer Montgomery, operate organic Blackberry Meadows Farm in Fawn.
“Farmers like to grow food that humans eat. If no one eats it, the loss of economics is less than (being) demoralized. It’s a labor of love. Farmers have an interest in keeping people fed locally,” Boulos says.
Weather or handling of fragile produce can cause damage. Kale hit by hail damage, he says, is an example of something that might go into the boxes.
Because 412 Food Rescue accepts SNAP and EBT recipients as subscribers, Boulos says he helps to feed people in need with a high-caliber product.
This year the “ugly” CSA box subscribers will receive a bonus of bars of soap made from hog lard on the farm.
Less than perfect or bumper crops can either go to waste or, because he has hogs, serve as animal food, Boulos says.
But that’s not his first choice. “I would prefer it go to human beings,” he says.
Joann Logan agrees.
She and husband Tom Logan and their adult children operate Logan Family Farms in Hempfield.
They have contributed cuts of meat and summer sweet corn to the ugly CSA boxes.
“Primarily when we have a quantity of something, or (something) near an expiration date. We offer it at a very reduced cost, then it doesn’t go to waste. We would rather an individual benefit,” Logan says.
Mary Pickels is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Mary at 724-836-5401, [email protected] or via Twitter .