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While meeting with a local farmer two years ago, Eric Diamond of Central Kitchen, a food business incubator in Cleveland, Ohio, learned that the farmer wasn’t able to sell all the carrots in his fields. Some of the carrots – while perfectly nutritious – weren’t the right size or shape for grocery stores’ and restaurants’ specifications. That sparked a question, and a business idea was born.
“I said to him, ‘What do you do with the carrots?’ and he said, ‘We leave them to rot in the fields because we don’t have an end market,’” said Diamond. “So, I said, ‘What if we buy the ones that don’t meet your specifications, and we process them and sell them to school districts?’”
Soon afterwards, the farmer, Wayward Seed Farm in Fremont, Ohio, began taking the carrots that would otherwise have been thrown away and dropping them off at Central Kitchen. They processed the carrots into 5-pound bags and sold them to school districts. Recently, with the help of a $30,000 grant from Circular Cleveland, Central Kitchen bought a new commercial grade food processor called a Robot Coupe which allows them to process carrots much faster.
“We had five people with knives cutting up carrots and dumping them into bags,” said Diamond. “We could only do 1,500 pounds in an eight-hour shift. Now, we can do 1,500 pounds in a couple of hours – and no calluses.”
Business and civic leaders in Cleveland like Diamond are turning to a new idea termed the “circular economy” – premised on reusing materials and turning them into new products rather than throwing them away – to help grow jobs and businesses, reduce waste, and improve the environment. Those would be welcome benefits in Cleveland, which is one of the poorest big cities in the country, with a poverty rate of 29.3% in 2021, according to the U.S. Census. According to the International Labor Organization, the circular economy could create a net increase of six million jobs globally by 2030.