Making Sense of Labels And The Redefining of Ugly

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What's In Store?

Have you seen the “Naturally Imperfect” apples available in stores recently?

With a phrase like that on the package you might just assume they’re never sprayed, but here’s the scoop. “Naturally Imperfect” is a phrase used to favorably brand a product that doesn’t meet the standards of Canada Grade #1. They’re not quite perfect in appearance or too small to make the grade. Hence, ‘imperfect’… It says nothing about how they’re grown.

‘Naturally’ sounds good, and only makes reference to the fact that the apples just grew with blemishes… in spite of the grower’s efforts to come up with Canada Grade #1 product. Of course the “Naturally Imperfect” line of products is only one example of the recent introduction of imperfect produce onto the retail grocery shelves.

Grocery stores used to offer only Canada Grade #1 produce. Those cosmetically perfect, uniformly shaped fruits and veggies with consistent appearance were more appealing to buyers.

Those good looks made Canada #1 grade product much easier to sell… an important factor when you’re offering goods with a very limited shelf life.

Now, what was once considered ugly, is being given new marketing appeal by promoting imperfection. After all, the eating and nutritional qualities are unchanged. When it comes to reducing waste it’s easy to see the benefit of this new perspective on ugly…at least when it comes to fresh produce.

When these less than perfect fruits and vegetables find their way into the retail grocery stream, more of the harvest on farms gets to the marketplace. At that means less fresh food wasted.

Not a bad thing.

What You Need To Know About Grading And Food Waste

I’ve worked on farms grading tomatoes and peppers for fresh market where the farmer had no one to buy all the fruit that did not make the grade. We tossed out tons of tomatoes that had just a fine line of scar tissue on the skin.  We discarded peppers with extra lobes on them, and anything either under sized or over sized, and more.

A lot of those rejects had only cosmetic defects. You could say they wereugly’.

So, now some of this ugly product is being purchased by the mainstream buyer and accepted into the grocery supply chain.

Not a bad thing, but here’s where it gets interesting…

For a long time ugly has been associated with produce grown without the aid of chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Now, it’s becoming an attribute of produce grown using the whole range of growing practices.

It’s time to redefine ugly….


How Redefining Ugly Can Reduce Pesticide Usage on Your Food

It’s more challenging for growers to get the same size and uniformity of produce in an organic production system. It’s even more challenging when they’re trying to grow large volumes of produce for a single buyer. Non-chemical farmers have had to work harder to get that perfect apple appealing to the eye.  As they strive to compete they rack up higher costs in labour and unmarketable produce.

The demand for perfect produce has created ugly problems.

The chemical approach has made  it easier to supply larger volumes of uniform fruits and vegetables from larger mono-cultures. Chemical pesticides make it easy to kill insect pests and pathogens while saving on labour and equipment.

It’s made the grower’s job easier, at least in the short term.

Over time this ease of use combined with poor market access for ugly produce for has spurred the adoption of chemical approaches over ecological practices.

Here’s How You Can Save With The New Ugly

Yet, ecological farmers choose to rely on working with nature more closely and supporting eco- systems as ways to produce healthy food. We don’t have all the same quick fixes at hand, so more product naturally comes up ugly. Yet, it’s packed with flavour.

The good news is that you can stretch you food dollar without compromising on nutritional value.

Cosmetically imperfect produce is not necessarily any less good for you and can be an opportunity to save a little while helping to reduce food waste. Having a basic understanding of produce grades will help you make informed choices with less confusion.  Yet, there’s another way to know what you’re getting….

Could This Be A Better Way For You?

To really know what you’re eating you could try to grow and prepare it all yourself. It’s a daunting prospect and hardly a real option for most of us.

Just thinking of all the variety of plants and all their unique needs to get the variety of fruits and vegetables you’d like to have, plus the weeding, watering and day to day care you’d have to put into it can be overwhelming.  For most of us, a better approach is to get to know a farmer… and how they grow the food you eat.

On our farm, we start with sourcing non-gmo seeds. Then we plant them and feed the soil life that will support our plants. Over the season we watch out for competing weeds and tend the plants to support their good health without toxic chemical sprays. And when its time to harvest some of it is naturally imperfect, a bit misshapen and not perfectly uniform, in spite of our best efforts to grow without the chemical aids. (We’re still learning and constantly improving our growing skills.)

Yet, if you’d like tasty greens and vegetables fresh from the farm … that will stay fresh for days in your fridge… then you won’t want to miss out on your share of the harvest at Green Hart Farms this coming season.

Until then, here’s a budget friendly simple recipe using locally available produce this time of a the year.


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