Conjoined carrots, pointy potatoes, zig-zagging zucchini – not all produce turns out looking perfect. In fact, the United States Department of Agriculture estimates that one third of all produce goes uneaten. This is in part because the produce simply looks too imperfect to sell, even though it’s perfectly edible.
Many people looking to reduce waste are turning to alternate methods of getting their fruits and veggies. From the Real Food Collaborative to SLO Veg, many local companies offer sustainable produce — ugly or not.
Real Food Collaborative
With the Real Food Collaborative, produce comes right from the Cal Poly Organic Farm and Orchard. It offers subscription boxes of products grown by students for students — even though subscribers extend beyond Cal Poly students — according to club member and business junior Emma Cecil.
“My favorite thing about Real Food Collaborative is the community we have been able to create,” Cecil said. “We have fostered an environment where people feel welcome and happy to share the food they love and the knowledge they have about sustainable food.”
The program offers a $100 subscription for five pickups of fruits and vegetables over 10 weeks, according to Cecil. There are also one-time pickups for $25.
“It’s super easy, and I don’t have to worry about shopping, really,” communication studies sophomore Bella Giannetti, who subscribes to the program, said. “I’m bad at buying groceries that are good for me, so it forces me to try new things.”
Talley Farms began in 1948. From Paso to Goleta, it now offers 70 different pickup locations for its produce, as well as weekly, bi-weekly or monthly delivery to customers’ doors. Each week’s box contains different produce and comes with storage instructions and recipes.
“The produce we grow here for the boxes – it’s not always as pretty as what you would see in the grocery store,” Talley Farms Box Program creator and manager Andrea Chavez said. “It’s not picture-perfect, but we grow varieties that have flavor. It’s super fresh.”
Produce is pre-cooled at Talley Farms, which gives it a much longer shelf-life than its grocery-bought counterparts, according to Chavez. Each item is grown on the farm or bought directly from other farmers, which eliminates using a warehouse system as grocery stores do.
Chavez said she thinks ordering such product boxes also helps people stay organized.
“I think people could be more sustainable if they just planned their meals,” Chavez said.
Talley Farms workers harvest the produce the day before they deliver each box, which range from $25 to $30. Any leftover items are donated to the SLO Food Bank each week.
“I love working for the Talley’s,” Chavez said. “We give back to our community. My passion is to get people to eat more produce.”
SLO Veg, a family operated business since 2009, offers home and business deliveries of four different harvest boxes. According to SLO Veg founder Rachel Hill, their produce is sourced from local farmers throughout the Central Coast who use either certified organic or natural farming practices.
Hill said SLO Veg thinks of their produce subscribers as family.
“We love giving our subscribers an opportunity to feel connected to their food,” Hill said. “They get to know where their produce comes from, while supporting local farmers and contributing to sustainable agriculture.”
Boxes from $31 to $46 are delivered weekly, bi-weekly and monthly.
Hill said sustainability is one of the most important things students should have on their minds.
“Every moment of every day we have an opportunity to make a more sustainable choice,” Hill said. “If the wellbeing of the planet is constantly in the back of our minds, we are more likely to make choices that are better for our future and the environment.”
Glean SLO is a program from the SLO Food Bank that works to connect local residents in need with extra produce from the county. Produce can come from farmers or even just from someone who simply grows fruit in their backyard.
“I think that is the most rewarding thing, getting people out into the fields to see how local produce is grown, where things come from, what it’s like to be on a farm and how much food there is in our community that’s just potentially going to waste,” Glean SLO Program Coordinator Emily Wilson said.
The SLO Food Bank is one of the Cal Poly resources supporting students who experience food insecurity.
Wilson said she encourages people to think more critically about their consumption patterns – not only about where their food comes from, but also where their money goes.
“I think probably from my perspective, getting people educated about the local food system is probably my favorite thing,” Wilson said.