By Aisling Swift

Krazykrops.com is a small, mission-driven startup with a big vision —  reducing the 60 million tons of food waste discarded every year in the U.S.

Melissa “Mila” Bazley of Naples recently launched the startup after discovering that tons of top-quality produce is discarded daily due to cosmetic problems, odd shapes or minor blemishes, about half of all fruit and vegetables produced nationwide, one study found. Some is fed to livestock, some goes to charities that feed the poor and homeless, some sits in fields rotting — and the remainder is hauled off to landfills due to high cosmetic standards.

So Bazley hopes to help sustain local farmers who have no outlet for their “unloved” and “ugly” produce, while providing Southwest Florida consumers with quality produce at affordable prices.

“Food waste is against the grain of who I am,” says Bazley, 38, a Florida Culinary Accelerator @ Immokalee member who came up with the concept to rescue as many unloved fruit and veggies as possible after Hurricane Irma. “Food waste doesn’t just occur on the farm. It occurs on all levels of the food supply chain. People just need to be educated.”

When Hurricane Irma hit Florida on Sept. 10, 2017, Bazley, a divorced mother of three who works in commercial real estate, started volunteering in Immokalee with her kids after she saw a Facebook post asking for help. She used social media posts to highlight the issue, reach others and increase community involvement.

Through her relationships with Immokalee residents and businesses, she learned that large amounts of farm produce there goes to waste because it doesn’t meet accepted cosmetic standards for grocery shelves.

Unloved, “seconds” or “No. 2s” are fruits and vegetables that taste the same as more perfect produce, but look slightly off, misshapen, bumpy — or just plain ugly. Farmers usually sell them at cheaper prices than perfect-looking produce.

Depending on the year and the markets, hundreds of tons of produce may go unsold, according to Collier County Extension Director Gene McAvoy.

“Last year packing houses in Immokalee donated over 3 million pounds of produce to the Harry Chapin food bank,” McAvoy said. “While the loss may seem extreme, it is a reality of the market and due to economic factors, it is often uneconomical to do anything with this produce.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates at least 30-40 percent of the nation’s food supply goes to waste, a number that grows in years of bad weather. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, retailers’ high cosmetic standards exclude 20 to 40 percent of fresh produce from markets, which increases that waste.

As a result, the USDA says unused produce is the largest source of waste in landfills today.

However, campaigns to combat food waste by selling discarded and ugly produce are gaining popularity nationwide after starting overseas in 2014, when the European Union declared it “The Year Against Food Waste.” The campaigns prompted ugly produce businesses to sprout up all over and the hashtags, #UglyProduce, #ImperfectProduce, #FoodWaste and #EndFoodWaste to pop up on social media.

Now, #krazykrops has joined those hashtags.

“If you have ever grown a garden, you know there is no such thing as perfection,” Bazley says. “Billions of pounds of produce get wasted every year because they are not the right color, shape or have minor scarring. We are here to change that by delivering “krazy,” but delicious, produce to our customers doors via our platform —  and we are continuing to build awareness one community at a time.”

Krazykrops draws from local produce in season, including a farm in Estero, but the majority comes from Immokalee. It’s currently offering conventional fruits and vegetables and will start distributing organic produce through its subscription platform.

Since launching in October, Krazykrops has gained more than 60 subscribers who receive weekly, biweekly or periodic produce box service.

Bazley was invited to be part of Artis—Naples’ Community Day family event on March 9, when Krazykrops will be featured near artist Philip Haas’ sculpture exhibit, “The Four Seasons.” There, Bazley will provide more than 400 children with apples and pears, as well as information on healthy eating.

Follow Krazykrops on Facebook and Instagram, or subscribe to its delivery service at www.krazykrops.com