Photo: Julie McMahon

Gotham Greens did not set out to sell ugly produce — the idea came straight from the salad bowl.

Gotham’s team regularly hosts family-style dinners with its staff and they often use ugly greens that don’t meet the standards for the Gotham Greens clamshells sold in stores. The greens could be affected by pests or have tip burn from excessive light levels. After discussions during these dinners and in their greenhouse about six months ago, Gotham realized that their ugly greens could be more than in-house food; they could be developed into a new product to sell and a conversation starter about food waste.

“We realized it was an opportunity to create a new product and start a platform on the issue of food waste,” Nicole Baum, Gotham Greens’ Senior Marketing and Partnerships Manager, says. “While our ugly greens are, overall, a small part of our production, it’s a really great way for us to raise awareness.”

Fitting company values

Gotham Greens’ produces leafy greens and herbs in hydroponic rooftop greenhouses in New York City and Chicago. Their business model is to sell hyperlocally and have the food, as Baum puts it, “from farm to fork within 24 hours.” One main motivation they have to be hyperlocal is a desire to reduce the amount of energy used to transport greens, as well as the company’s overall environmental footprint.

Another main reason the company is focused on local is because of food waste. Baum says 50 percent of greens are thrown out between the farm and the store. And even with their internal efforts to keep the crops fresh, they find issues that, for many growers, would result in the crop being thrown out.

“Even in our highly controlled greenhouses where plants are being coddled, we are finding cosmetic issues with our plants,” Baum says. “It may have a hole in it or some discoloring in an area.”

The addition of ugly greens is an effort to be part of the solution.

What consumers are getting

Unlike Gotham Green’s typical clamshells, their ugly greens are a mix of any and all greens deemed ugly during routine crop inspections. Currently, this only accounts for a small amount of their output and they do not aim to sell a specific amount of ugly greens.

Baum says so far, customers and stores are responding well to ugly produce. Whole Foods, for instance, is already carrying the product. She says customers who are already familiar with Gotham Greens and/or the value of local produce have been more receptive to the products. But the hope is that with the ugly greens bags containing twice the amount greens and the price typically being about a dollar lower, customers will try ugly.

“Despite the blemishes, they are still local, harvested daily, pesticide free and delicious,” Baum says. “That’s our standard.”