Bon Harvest began in 2016 with a vision to tackle the US food waste crisis, after learning that the US wastes over 60 million tons of food per year - roughly 1/3 of the food grown in US markets - while spending over $218 billion growing, processing, transporting, and disposing of food that is never eaten.
Bon Harvest’s approach was to leverage real-time technology in local markets, connecting farmers to businesses in local communities through an on-line farmers market. We built a platform from the bottom up, with an eye to challenging the unsavory reputation of ugly produce (ugly produce = edible but misshapen fruits and vegetables that often go straight from dirt to dumpster).As it turns out, ugly produce is actually quite savory, and just as nutritious as its more socially adept siblings.
The Bon Harvest online marketplace made it easy for food producers, wholesalers, retailers and other wholesale food consumers (e.g. farms, wholesale food distributors, retail supermarkets, restaurants, municipalities, food banks, etc.) to buy and sell food that would otherwise be wasted. The platform facilitated ugly produce sales at below-market prices, a solution that helped our farmer friends and partners in the food and beverage industry alike to shift toward a landfill-free future while simultaneously improving their bottom lines.
Bon Harvest transactions were hassle-free and include pre-scheduled or on-demand deliveries for each purchase. Everything was online and automated for both buyers and sellers in real-time. Once an order was processed, the delivery company picked up the produce from the seller and delivered it to the buyer; the seller was then paid upon delivery. The Bon Harvest platform monitored and rated vendors based on the quality of their product and service, taking care to ensure food-safety. As a result, Bon Harvest grew to partner with 67 farms in the tri-state area and over 32 different buyers, from restaurants to startups to museums to events.
Yet it became apparent that food waste was not the only challenge in the agriculture and food industries; business was crippled by a widespread lack of transparency and out-of-date technology. As we grew 27% month over month in a year, misinformation and inefficiencies in the broader industry became an unavoidable bottleneck, one that impacted farmers worst of all.
After two years of partnership and friendships with these farmers, we were devastated to understand the fragility of their security, the volatility of the markets, and some of the preventable challenges they faced. It is impossible to control the weather (though our actions have arguably made climate shifts more concerning) but inside of industry inefficiencies we could see an opportunity to attempt to reduce some of the unnecessary stress farmers face on a daily basis.
So we decided to change our approach.
What We Learned
Bon Harvest’s model disrupted legacy supplier dominance and worked to democratize access to food. Our on-demand, B2B platform enabled communities to buy hyper-local produce in an unprecedented way. After investing two years in the agriculture space in an attempt to address wasted food and sustainability, Bon Harvest discovered the challenge of legacy technology in agriculture; tech is either highly analog in an increasingly digital and real-time economy, or it does not exist at all.
Many farmers opt for pen and paper inventories, frustrated with technology that does not meet their needs or by an inconsistent usage of technology across the broader market. But this practice created a tremendous challenge in connecting perishable goods to consumers in an efficient, healthy, sustainable way and often contributed to the masses of food wasting away in transit or in the fields.
In particular, we came to understand the following:
The challenge of transparency: As we grew 27% month over month in a year, misinformation and out-of-date inventory became a huge bottleneck. Inventory lags made it impossible to fill orders, and thus impossible to establish trust in relationships that lead to consistent demand and fair pay for farmers.
The desire for efficiency: Farmers did not want to work with multiple distributors - some for ‘marketable produce’, others for ugly. They wanted to showcase their entire farm though one effective convenient platform.
A growing disconnect between farmers and end consumers: The recent revival of community farmers markets has been incredibly beneficial to the health and heart of local communities, but these markets are limited in their ability to move large amounts of product in an efficient manner. Sometimes, farmers need access to a broader market to scale their business in real-time and prevent the waste of perishable crops.
The needs of urban farmers: Our location in New York City - which is quickly becoming an urban farming capital - keyed us into another exciting opportunity for the future of farming. As the climate continues to change and populations continue to grow, hyper-local produce will be essential in helping to feed communities of the future. Urban farming will have a huge hand in that, yet as the majority of these urban farms grow, they currently lack depth in their independent networks to be able to scale quickly.
Consumers care about health, impact and the environment and crave connection: In 2018, the Wellness Industry grew to $4.2 trillion (with healthy eating as the second largest contributor at $702.1 billion). According to a study by CORE and Rangan, 92% of consumers prefer to purchase products produced in a responsible manner, rather than similar products which make no mention of social-responsibility or impact. In this especially the need for transparency and information is paramount.
Learning this, Bon Harvest decided to pivot, and pivot big.
We no longer operate as a distributor for ugly produce. Though ugly produce is still very much within our sights, our scope has broadened. We aim to empower a bigger shift, an exciting shift that not only eliminates ugly produce waste but also improves livelihoods for food growers while allowing food eaters to become more personally connected to and invested in the impact of their food choices.
We have a strong desire to empower farmers, incredible individuals who dedicate their lives to the nourishment of our food and bodies, and - in many cases - to the well-being of our planet. Individuals who help to remind us of our own innate and richly integrated relationship to food, to the earth, and to one another. Advances in technology over the past few decades have caused consumers to suffer increasing segmentation and separation from the ‘life’ of their food. Plastic-wrapped, generic-looking produce - bred and modified for color or size or insect resistance - is far removed from the things that move the human spirit: the smell of damp soil after a quenching rain or the vibrancy of a tiny green sprout bursting forth from winter decay.
When we view food only as an object with no recognition of the time, resources, labor, and care that went into nourishing each morsel, we disconnect further and further from a fundamental and shared truth: everything is connected.
By the end of the 21st century, there are likely to be an additional 4 billion people on this planet. With growing globalization and stunning new innovations in technology progress over the next few decades is inevitable, yet there is no guarantee that the trajectory of human progress will be relentlessly upward unless we come together to make intelligent, inclusive decisions for all. Now more than ever our well-being is linked to the well-being of strangers, not just across the city, but across the globe. Cooperation is a matter of planetary survival.
What better opportunity for innovation and possibility?
Currently, farming represents 10% of global GDP, employs close to 40% of the global workforce, and accounts for 30% of the worldʼs greenhouse gas emissions. Agriculture is a resource-intensive sector, accounting for 70% of global freshwater use and 38% of global land area.
We envision a future in which the collaboration of technology and story-telling, re-enlivens the intimacy of the food experience, reviving a curiosity for the incredible journey of a green sprout to the piece of lettuce on our burger.
A future where societies value farmers, support sustainable agriculture practices, and feel more invested and more intimately connected to food and all that helps it thrive.
A future in which companies work with farmers to develop technological advances to dramatically decrease waste in the agriculture sector, the technology works with nature and not to control or destroy it, and the possibility of a dignified, nourished life is available to all.