To grow veggies in Denmark is not easy. The vegetables and fruits we buy for our ugly and surplus GRIM boxes could have ended up as waste because of their crooked forms, different sizes or just because there have grown too many of them on the field. Naturally, we as consumers expect to pay less for ugly and surplus produce, since we know they would have been trashed if it wasn’t for EAT GRIM. So here comes a challenge: We believe this produce is NOT worth any less than the picture-perfect versions you can buy in the supermarket.
The issue here is that when we see model-like greens in the supermarket, we automatically think of those as “real” or better put, “high quality” - and that’s the way it should be! As consumers, we think that we should not pay the same price for produce that doesn't live up to our internalised beauty and quality standards, which ultimately makes us believe that a grim or surplus vegetables is worth less - even though they taste exactly the same.
Did your mom never teach you, that it’s the inner values that count? The nice looking veggies therefore don’t leave any chance for the ugly ones to be sold for what they are really worth. But what defines a vegetables worth really? Actually, what you pay for is not the vegetable in itself - but all the work that has been paid to grow, take care of harvest and package the produce that you find on your supermarket shelf.
We tend to forget that it is people, who with blood, sweat and tears carry the investment and risk so that your food ends up in your stomachs. We think it’s time to appreciate the Danish farming work more and we hope that at the end of this blog post, you will realise that paying the same for a pretty or an ugly veggie makes total sense.
On a farm trip through Sjælland
Our company EAT GRIM gets its fruit and veggies form 20 different Danish and 15 European farms. In June 2020, we went on a tour-de-Sjælland, where we visited three of our partners on their farms, and a fourth farm we don’t source from yet. We saw their production, heard about the work and most importantly, their struggles. Our conclusion: Being a farmer is not easy!
First stop: Kiselgården!
The day started off with us driving towards Kiselgården in Western Sjælland. They grow organic produce like celeriac, cabbage, pumpkins and lots of salads. Kiselgarden collaborates with the online supermarket nemlig.com, who demands that they already in January have to decide which and how many vegetables the farm has to deliver in the upcoming year. However, it is impossible for the farmers to only grow veggies in the “right” colour, size and form, because, well, nature. So quite a huge chunk of their products get rejected on an ongoing basis, and this is where EAT GRIM comes into the picture.
Kiselgården showed us some of their lettuce, and explained the demands the supermarkets make in order for them to be sold. For example, the outer leaves are often too “ugly”, because animals have eaten the top of the leaf, even though they are perfectly fine and edible. So what’s a farmer to do? Plough it down, back in the field where it has grown, without even making the effort to harvest it.
The lettuce that makes the cut and can be sold has to have the right size for the supermarket's packaging. That means a bunch of outer leaves get peeled off, to make the veggie beautiful and fit. In this video, farmer Morten explains it perfectly!
Morten explaining what a "perfect" lettuce looks like - according to the supermarkets.
On the road to Mejnerts Landbrug
We continued from Kiselgården to Mejnerts, a family business, which focuses on sustainability and high quality potatoes. The young farmer Peter, who is full of energy, told us about how the potatoes have to be approved by the supermarket in order to be sold. As a result, approximately 10% of all potatoes harvested are rejected in the packing department because they are too “ugly”. The potatoes are removed because of its size, form or because something is wrong with the skin. “There is too much waste”, according to Peter, “even though it’s good quality.”
10% is nothing in comparison to how many carrots don’t make the cut. Mejners used to grow carrots, but since 30% of the yearly production is rejected when going further along the food supply chain, they switched entirely to potatoes. What that means for a farmer: they had to over-produce with 30%.
Peter emphasises how frustrating it is that so many tons of products are wasted every year, often because they have tiny mistakes. That’s a problem. Today we discard the vegetables due to their appearance, not because of the quality. Peter Mejnerts mentioned that we as consumers have to “remember that vegetables should not be clinical! They can look a bit funny – the quality and the tasting experience is exactly the same.”
Peter spoke about his frustration with how big retailers work in Denmark “You can buy potatoes all year round, but in high season, tons of Danish vegetables are going to waste because large amounts of potatoes from abroad have already been imported and stored by the supermarkets. Thus, Danish agriculture does not get the opportunity to sell their products, even though the farmers have put resources into growing. In my opinion, we should focus as much as possible on buying locally.”
One last piece of advice that Peter gave us: don’t believe everything you hear about what is edible and what not! Our frightened brain tells us that we can’t eat sprouting potatoes – which is not true at all! Peter, the potato expert, explained that if a potato is sprouting, it means that it has to be eaten as soon as possible. The potato is about to transform itself into a “mother”, meaning that if you put her back in the soil, it would start growing new and small baby potatoes. So, if you have any sprouting potatoes in your fridge, hurry up to use them for a potato sandwich, fries or this tasty potato rösti, which you can find on our blog.
Look at those damn beautiful potatoes!
Next stop: Birkemosegård
With wind in our hair and breezy cheeks, we drove to Sjællands Odde, our next stop, where the biodynamic and organic farm Birkemosegård is located. Biodynamic food products are crops that to a larger extent grow in collaboration with nature and improve biodiversity. For example, farming practices take into consideration moon cycles, which tell us when it's best to grow a certain crop, or crop rotation, which means not growing the same crop on the same piece of land year after year, typically resulting in soil exploitation. Also, farmers may only use 14 different additives, whereas conventional farming can use 370 – yes, that’s a lot!!!
Birkemosegård told us that it can happen that one year, they can’t sell 50 tons of potatoes, 10 tons of cabbage and 20 tons of beetroot because the market is so picky when it comes to size and shape. Their cows, however, are happy about these vegetables, but they don’t make money on feeding their perfectly edible food to the cattle. Jesper, who is the farmer at Birkemosegaard, thinks that there is a lack of respect of supermarkets - and consumers - who just think that throwing out all that food is acceptable - especially because it costs extra money to follow biodynamic and organic practices. That’s why we’re happy to help out, and reduce food waste in Denmark by selling the enormous amounts of “ugly” vegetables to our GRIMlings. You’re welcome!
Sweet Jesper on his farm.
Last stop of the day: Svanholm Gods
Our last stop was Svanholm Gods, a collective farm that grows many different crops all year round. Fortunately, most of their vegetables are sold because they have many different customers with different needs and level of acceptance – YES, less food waste! But just like any other farmer, they still have surplus and rejected goods that we buy off of them.
Our trip ended with a great community dinner, where we joined the people living at Svanholm and gardener Mar, who gave us probably the biggest compliment ever: “You are hard-working girls!” Thank you Mar - we appreciate you saying this, because now we know how damn hard it is to be a farmer, given the fact that one third of all food farmers grow is systematically rejected because it doesn’t look “perfect” enough or is overproduced.
So perfect - look at Svanholm Gods' vegetables so fine in line.
One thing that really stood out at all four visits is the collective wish of farmers that their hard work and money spent on growing food is appreciated - including the ugly vegetables. We confirmed that food is REALLY thrown out, systemically, regularly, and with no intention from big players to change anything about the status quo. All four farms mentioned that ugly greens are not of worse quality, and they taste just as good as the ones we buy in the supermarkets (we think even better). So let’s give agriculture and the people running the show the respect and most importantly, the payment they deserve.
Stay ugly, and eat with your brain, not only your eyes.