Do you ever source from middlemen, like food hubs and grower representatives, instead of growers/farmers directly?

Imperfect will occasionally source from food hubs and grower representatives-- 6% of our purchased produce came from grower representatives in 2018. These representatives play an important role in our food system--they help growers, big and small--and we are selective about who we work with and thus, proud to support them. Grower representatives advocate for growers who do not have the time and expertise to fully market their crops. It’s difficult for smaller growers to manage the customer relationships, the logistics, and market awareness at the same time they are trying to grow and pack their crops. They are often too small or seasonal to have a sales team so they partner with grower representatives to provide that service. While it’s easy to demonize the "middleman" these representatives are in fact working on their behalf.

For example, we partner with Viva Tierra Organics, which represents dozens of smaller farms, to source off-size fruit that grocery stores won’t take. Through this partnership, we support the livelihoods of farmers by providing them revenue for all of the produce they grow. Roy Ruff, of Viva Tierra, says:

“As grower representatives, Viva Tierra Organic markets fruit for scores of small and intermediate family orchards. Working with Imperfect has become a significant positive marketing component in regards to moving through portions of [produce] that are not typically supported by common organic retailers and wholesalers, resulting in a better return overall for our growers. We have seen improvements in relationships with our growers due to heightened confidence in our ability to bring a larger percentage of their crop to market. We often are able to pack and sell fruit that is off-size or grade that previously would go to processing or cullage so in our small way [we’re] fighting food waste. Imperfect has become a vital facilitator in bringing organic produce to more people without negatively affecting the fresh crop market prices we attain selling to traditional outlets.”

We also partner with a number of food hubs, including the Wisconsin Food Hub Cooperative in the Midwest. As defined by the USDA, a food hub is “a centrally located facility with a business management structure facilitating the aggregation, storage, processing, distribution, and/or marketing of locally/regionally produced food products.” WFHC is an inspiring farming co-op with over 45 members, including dozens of family-owned Amish farms. With the exception of one grower in Northern Illinois, all of the growers are proudly Wisconsin-based. This exceptional network of farmers grows over 55 different types of produce year-round. Tara Roberts Turner of the WFHC says:

“Working with retail grocery stores is really challenging as a smaller coop as 30% of your harvest each year could end up as waste because of cosmetic standards. Working with Imperfect gives them more flexibility and helps their bottom line.”

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