California Start-Up Rescues 'Imperfect' Produce to Bring Farm-Fresh Goods to Families at a Discount

Photo by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/comedynose/">Pete</a>/Flickr/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">Creative Commons</a>
Photo by Pete/Flickr/Creative Commons

Farm-to-family food delivery services like Good Eggs and Out of the Box Collective aren't new in California, but an Oakland-based start-up is taking that grocery model and shaking it up by selling the kind of produce you've probably passed up at the store.

Imperfect "gives consumers the chance to buy delicious, wonky-looking produce at a discount" — you know, things like carrots with twists and turns and tomatoes with cracks and lobes. These are the things that are no stranger to anyone who grows them at home; gardeners are accustomed to seeing less-than-perfect fruits and vegetables come out of the earth, and they're no less edible than their shapelier counterparts.

But in our consumer market, imperfect produce is often passed up in stores and rejected from farms. With 80% of California's water going to agriculture, that amounts to a lot of water wasted — "at least 25 to 50 gallons of water to grow one pound of produce," according to Ron Clark, co-founder of Imperfect.


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Clark and his co-founders, Ben Simon and Ben Chesler, launched the venture as a creative way to reduce food (and subsequently, water) waste. All three are veterans in the food justice arena. Simon and Chesler previously founded the Food Recovery Network in 2011 on the East Coast, which recovered 700,000 pounds of leftover food from 150 college campus dining halls. After the success of that project, they started looking for ways to make an even bigger impact — and they found it on farms, where 6 billion pounds of "ugly" fruits and vegetables (or approximately 20% of the produce grown) go to waste each year across the U.S.

Simon and Chesler came up with an idea to make this produce more accessible and affordable for families who aren't put off by the occasional odd-shaped potato. They teamed up with Clark, who has worked for the California Association of Food Banks for the last 15 years sourcing ugly produce to prevent it from sitting in landfills. They raised over $38,000 on Indiegogo and launched their food delivery start-up, which sells "cosmetically challenged" produce for $12 per box (or approximately $1 per pound).

The cost is roughly 30% less than conventional produce in a grocery store, with the added perk of being an environmentally responsible option, especially for those who enjoy subscribing to a CSA. Imperfect will roll out its delivery service to home and office addresses in Oakland, Berkeley, and Emeryville starting this August, with pick-up sites and possibly more delivery locations in California slated in the future.

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