New startup aims to reduce local food waste

WASHINGTON (AP) — It’s difficult to believe, but in a country where more than 50 million people face hunger on a daily basis, an estimated 70 billion pounds of edible food goes to waste each year.

District of Columbia resident Elizabeth Bennett has been aware of these statistics for years. Bennett, 29, has a master’s degree in the anthropology of food and formerly worked in nutrition and food policy. But she didn’t grasp the magnitude of the situation until about a year ago, when she witnessed waste right in front of her eyes — or, rather, under her feet.

“I was visiting a local orchard and I was just astonished by the thousands of pounds of fruit that were going to waste in front of me,” says Bennett, referring to fruit on the ground at a pick-your-own peach field in the Washington area. “It’s one thing to sort of conceptually understand an idea, and it’s another to see it happening in front of you.”

Bennett decided she wanted to do something to help reduce the amount of food being wasted in the local area, so she started gathering fallen apples from an orchard in Delaplane, Virginia, and turning them into dehydrated apple chips.

“I had a couple other ideas, and suddenly it just hit me that apple chips would be a great idea, because they are a healthy snack, they are shelf-stable, and I think healthy snacking is so important,” Bennett says.

Bennett entered her idea to make healthy snacks from produce that would otherwise go to waste in Mess Hall’s Launch Pad contest, where she competed against other food entrepreneurs and startups for investment and space at the District’s newest food incubator.

After being selected as one of four finalists, Bennett was voted “audience favorite” for her cinnamon apple chips; she was awarded three free months of rent at Mess Hall.

Now, her mission is also her full-time job. Bennett recently left her position as the director of outreach and communication at The United States Healthful Food Council to focus exclusively on her new business, Fruitcycle.

Bennett travels 60 miles to the Delaplane orchard a few times a week to collect fallen apples, which she receives from the farmer at a discount — after all, she’s doing all the labor to collect apples that otherwise won’t sell. On a recent trip, Bennett gathered 200 pounds of apples in two hours by herself. But she says 200 pounds is just the tip of the iceberg; with more time and more people, she could double or triple her collection.

“There are just so many trees and only so many people,” she says.

Bennett estimates 200 apples makes about 17.5 pounds of dried fruit, after the apples are cored and bruises are removed. Before Bennett officially launches Fruitcycle, she has a few details to work out — including her packaging.

“The idea is to sell the snack portions, and then a larger bag that has about five times as many portions.”

Also, Bennett is planning to add employees once Fruitcycle gets off the ground. She wants to provide jobs to formerly incarcerated, homeless or otherwise disadvantaged women. And as far as products go, apples are just the beginning.

“There are a lot of, not only fruit, but vegetables, all sorts of produce going to waste, so yes, I definitely think there’s a lot of opportunity to expand beyond apple chips.”

Keep an eye out for Fruitcycle products at a handful of local retailers, including Glen’s Garden Market, Hill’s Kitchen, Pleasant Pops, Logan Hardware and Sticky Fingers.

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Information from: WTOP-FM, http://www.wtop.com

 

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