July 2018: Whole Crop Harvest (WCH) is bringing together partners from across the supply chain to reduce on-farm produce loss and increase farmer profitability. This summer, the initiative is working with Eastern Carolina Organics (ECO) and Bon Appétit Management Company at the SAS Institute on a pilot project to market “Grade 2” produce, sometimes known as “ugly” produce. This is produce that is edible and nutritious but, for cosmetic reasons (size, shape, surface scarring) fails to meet the USDA’s Grade 1 standard, which is a requirement of most retail and food service buyers. Finding markets for Grade 2 produce has been identified as a step towards reducing on-farm food loss, increasing farmer profitability, and enhancing the overall sustainability of our food system.

“ECO is a mission-based company, we’re a B-Corporation, so anything we can do to increase farmer access to as many markets as possible and eliminate food loss, we’ll do,” says Bridgette Thurston, ECO’s Sales and Marketing Manager. The company was already looking for ways to market Grade 2 produce when WCH Project Director Rebecca Dunning proposed a summer pilot program with Bryan Little, Executive Chef of the SAS Atrium Café. It was an obvious fit. In 1999, Bon Appétit was the first foodservice company to require their chefs to purchase 20% of their food from within 150 miles (500 miles for seafood) of their kitchens.

The pilot, which wrapped up its first month in June, offered Little a way to plan his menus around available Grade 2 produce. Availability lists were sent out each Friday for the following week’s deliveries. “I’m a big believer in supporting local community,” says Little, who had previously worked on farms and says he “knows the hardship” of farming. He was already purchasing local produce, meat, and dairy, and welcomed the chance to add Grade 2 produce to the list. Bon Appétit has a Grade 2 purchasing initiative called “Imperfectly Delicious Produce (IDP)”, but most IDP produce is from California. “I wanted more local options,” he says. Feedback will be collected after the pilot, and if deemed successful, become a regular ECO offering to all its customers.

Another benefit of Grade 2 produce is that, because of its imperfections, it is sold at a lower price point – potentially making local, organic produce more affordable. “We hope to bring on new customers to participate in our Grade 2 program. Healthy fresh produce should be accessible to everyone,” says Thurston.

“No farmer likes leaving produce in the field or the packing shed,” says Dunning. “If we can help make the seconds marketable for the farmer, everybody wins.”

For more information on Whole Crop Harvest, contact Rebecca Dunning: rddunnin@ncsu.edu.

This article originally appeared in the July 2018 NC Growing Together Newsletter.