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Living on the veg

In New Zealand up to thirty percent of a crop of fruit or vegetables can go to waste, just because of slight imperfections such as being the wrong size, shape, or colour. These crops never make it to households, and are instead disposed of or made into low value products. Taupō locals Sofia Dekovic and Jen Long of Misfit Garden are on a mission to break the cycle of food waste in New Zealand.

Misfit Garden is a foodbox delivery business that gathers ‘perfectly imperfect’ fruit and vegetables from local farmers and sends them to households in the Taupō area. “Both Jen and I grew up in places where ‘weird’-shaped produce was normal. Jen’s family had a home veggie garden, and I am from Chile, where most people get their fresh produce from the local market. We were both used to seeing food that was a quirky size or colour. But in New Zealand it’s really hard to find” says Sofia. It was this realisation that was a driving force behind the creation of Misfit Garden.

“We both have a strong interest in environmental issues” says Jen. “We started Misfit Garden because we were horrified to read some of the statistics around food waste. Over a quarter of the world’s fresh water supply is used to grow food that is never eaten. If food waste were a country it would be the third largest emitter of greenhouse gases. That’s just crazy. We want to increase awareness of these issues, while providing people with an exciting and varied selection of produce” she says.

“One of the major issues in New Zealand is surplus food. It’s almost impossible for farmers to grow exactly what the market demands each year. To protect themselves from things like bad weather or pest problems, they over-plant. They also know that some of their crop may be rejected if it’s the wrong shape or size. One local farmer couldn’t sell his cauliflowers because they had gone purple in the sun, and another had their avocado crop rejected as the skins were a bit dark. It all still tastes the same” says Jen.

When the pair first started contacting local farmers about excess produce they were surprised at the response. “At first the farmers told us there wasn’t a food waste issue in New Zealand, and that they sold everything they grew. However after a few weeks the phone started ringing” says Sofia. Within a month Jen and Sofia had begun purchasing what has now become a steady stream of fresh produce for their growing number of customers.

As a zero-waste business, any produce that’s left over is donated to local charities, and no plastic is used. Even the packing tape is made of paper. Misfit Garden currently delivers to Taupō, Kinloch, Wairakei and Broadlands, and they receive regular requests to increase their delivery area.

“When we first starting the business we visited Rick at Enterprise Great Lake Taupō. He suggested we start selling at the Sunday market, which helped raise our profile. Now that the business is expanding, we’ll be working with Rick to find ways to grow the business at the right speed. At the moment we’re both still working in other jobs but we’d eventually like to do this full time” says Jen.

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