While some produce is misshapen or decorated with bumps and bruises, Abhi Ramesh recognized these “ugly” fruits and vegetables still taste the same.
He realized they could even be used to make affordable, healthy produce accessible across Philadelphia.
Ramesh launched Misfits Market, a North Philadelphia-based company that sells produce purchased directly from Pennsylvania and New Jersey farms that would otherwise be discarded because of blemishes, odd shapes or an overabundance of a crop. The company delivers the fresh, organic fruits and vegetables to homes around the city and customers can subscribe on the company’s website.
“If you move beyond Center City and you move into more rural areas in eastern Pennsylvania or even other parts, there’s no Whole Foods, there’s no Trader Joe’s, you probably don’t have a farmer’s market,” Ramesh said. “Getting access to affordable, fresh, organic foods is an impossible endeavor.”
Food waste in the United States accounts for up to 40 percent of the food supply, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Ramesh said much of this food is wasted each year, mostly due to societal standards regarding “perfect” and “attractive” vegetables.
According to a 2017 report by the Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic, Philadelphia businesses and households produce up to 1.5 million tons of trash per year, and 60 percent of it ends up in landfills. More than 400,000 tons of organic wastes are thrown out each year by Philadelphians.
Because the food would otherwise be thrown out by farmers, Ramesh said Misfits Market can supply produce at prices 30-50 percent cheaper than local grocery stores.
Customers can order a 10-12 pound “Mischief” produce box for $19 or an 18-20 pound “Madness” produce box for $34 on the company’s website. The boxes can be delivered weekly or every other week.
The produce is shipped within two days of harvest, Ramesh said, and boxes include seasonal produce like apples, peaches, tomatoes, squashes, potatoes and lettuce.
“Historically…you have to spend quite a bit of money to get access to [organic produce] and sometimes the cost barriers are so high that people don’t shop fresh and they don’t shop organic,” Ramesh said. “So, first thing we’re doing is we’re bringing the barrier down.”
Common Grounds, a coffee shop on Cecil B. Moore Avenue near 16th Street, partners with Misfits Market for its produce.
“Being able to explain to guests of ours that this is something we’re doing, this is how we’re doing it, I feel like it warms up the meal,” said Stephen Yaeger, the cafe’s co-owner. “It brings a little something extra, a little love to the meal and makes it a little more special.”
Misfits Markets serves more than 1,000 people, Ramesh said, and the company employs North Philadelphia residents in the fulfillment center and warehouse on Germantown Avenue in Nicetown, which Ramesh said benefits the community by providing jobs in addition to affordable food.
North Philadelphia residents like Cassandra Hanlon are considering signing up for produce shipments.
Hanlon, 30, lives on 29th Street near Cecil B. Moore Avenue and said Misfits Market would benefit the North Philadelphia community.
“A lot of food does get wasted, and I think that it would be helpful if we could put that to good use,” Hanlon said.
Ramesh makes the company environmentally friendly in other ways, too. He worked with packaging companies to reduce the carbon footprint of his boxes with a biodegradable, insulating green foam that keeps the produce fresh and disintegrates in water. The company is also moving toward using compostable bags, Ramesh said.
“It’s great that they’re tackling their aspect of the packaging issue…that there’s a company that’s trying to tackle these issues,” said Allison Hayes-Conroy, an environmental studies and geography and urban studies professor. “This could be part of [the solution] for sure, and it would be great if other companies would do some more things.”
Misfits Market serves all ZIP codes in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut. Ramesh hopes to eventually expand nationally.
“Our mission is all around affordable healthy eating, with kind of this sustainable food angle to it,” he said. “Hopefully, in the next couple of years, [we will] be able to go and build a national brand around food sustainability and healthy eating.”