Successful business and societal contributions — two opposite paths for many people. But for Evan Lutz, they are one and the same.
Lutz, 25, founded Hungry Harvest in 2014 with a mission of “eliminating food waste and ending hunger” during his senior year at the University of Maryland, College Park. Headquartered in Baltimore, the company offers subscription boxes of fruits and vegetables that are perfectly edible but en route to the wastebasket due to their aesthetics.
In 2016, Hungry Harvest gained international attention when Lutz received a $100,000 investment from Robert Herjavec on the popular TV program “Shark Tank.”
“My whole life I’ve really been entrepreneurial,” Lutz says. “I’ve been obsessed with this idea of starting a business that not just made money but made an impact and helped the world become a better place.”
While interning with the Food Recovery Network, an organization that redistributes leftover food from college dining halls to people in need, Lutz came into contact with a local farmer who had a surplus of unsalable, either off-color or odd-shaped, produce. It was then that Lutz found himself standing amidst an untapped market with real potential for social change.
“I started selling five pounds of produce for five bucks to college students,” says Lutz. “We went from 10 customers a week to 500 in a matter of six months.” Hungry Harvest took root in the basement of his dorm room. It’s been growing ever since.
According to Lutz, 20 billion pounds of produce go to waste each year in the United States. Some 50 million Americans are food-insecure, and in Baltimore, one in every three. “Profits and revenue are a byproduct,” he says. The real mission is to end waste and hunger.
Hungry Harvest teams up with schools and community centers in food deserts of Baltimore to provide access to affordable fresh produce. They’ve also partnered with SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), a government program providing low-income households with debit cards to purchase healthful foods. “We’re taking that initiative to everywhere else we expand,” Lutz says.
And expand they have. Hungry Harvest now delivers in eight states, employing a team of 30. Lutz aims to grow across the country, with a five-year plan to serve 100 million people.
How does he like the title of social entrepreneur? “I love that term. Business is a powerful tool to solve social problems,” Lutz says, “more so than government or nonprofits.”
Forging a new trail hasn’t come without challenges, though.
“In entrepreneurship, the world is fighting against you, not for you, to build a business,” says Lutz. “This company was in danger of failure at least two times when we had less than $200 in our bank account. We worked 18-hour days to get our customers the right orders.”
Nonetheless, he’s persevered. Lutz tells his story without an ounce of insecurity. “There’s no cap on how big we can grow,” he says, “and that’s what really excites me.”
Visit Hungry Harvest on Facebook.
Liz McMahon is a Baltimore-based freelance writer.