New Life for 'Ugly' Produce

What happens to fruits and vegetables that are at the peak of ripeness but don't look as perfect as they once did? They might end up in a compost pile because they can't be sold at retail. But what if there was a way to give them new life?

That's exactly what's been happening recently in the LEAP Kitchen.

Each Monday and Tuesday, Kitchen Manager Jeff Bland, a Virginia Tech nutrition intern, and a team of volunteers, takes what is sometimes called "ugly" produce from LEAP's Food Hub and turns it into delicious, nutritious prepared food that can be sold at LEAP's various markets.

Recent products the kitchen has made this year include apple sauce, strawberry sauce, and peach sauce; roasted butternut squash, vegetable soup, stir fry mixes (summer squash, garlic scapes, broccoli, and onions); frozen strawberries and summer squash and green beans; and tomato sauce. The team has perfected dried apples, as well.

This is important as a food waste issue, but also as a food access issue. If LEAP can take healthy produce and make it available in a way that's easy for shoppers to eat (prepared soup makes a quick dinner for an elderly customer who might not be able to cook all her vegetables from scratch), that's another added benefit. Being able to turn a loss into a profit (even a small one) helps LEAP's bottom line, as well.

This work is so key to LEAP’s mission of supporting local farmers, increasing access to fruits and vegetables, and reducing food waste. When LEAP purchases fresh produce in bulk when it’s in season (more than 100 pounds of green beans!), that creates a market for area farmers. When we are able to cook, dry, or freeze these fresh fruits and veggies, it extends their usefulness and saves their nutrients for winter when fresh produce is less available.

Thoughtful solutions like this are one way that LEAP is helping to strengthen our region's local food system.

Want to help with this project? Jeff is looking for volunteers to process food on Mondays and Tuesdays. He provides training and equipment. Email with questions or to volunteer.

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