Kenyon alumni Reilly Brock ’12 and Emily Carter ’17 make a great pear, working together to squash food waste and find homes for “ugly produce.”
The company they work for, Imperfect Produce, delivers to monthly subscribers locally grown fruits and vegetables deemed too “ugly” to make it onto grocery shelves. More than 20 percent of produce grown in America never reaches stores, and by selling crooked carrots, undersized beans and twisted cucumbers for less than typical grocery store prices, the company hopes to reduce food waste in the United States. The company also aims to “help more and more people fall in love with cooking with fresh fruits and vegetables,” ultimately “discovering the joy, meaning and health that food can provide,” Brock said.
While a Kenyon student, Brock studied the social theory of junk food, ran a late-night food cart and worked at the Rural Life Center, cultivating gardens for senior citizens. Brock, who majored in sociology, learned about Imperfect Produce through a former Kenyon professor, Karen Leibowitz, and joined the company in 2016 as a content marketer. “Kenyon taught me how to think in an interconnected way … knitting together material from sociology, anthropology, clinical nutrition and food journalism,” Brock said. “When I found Imperfect, it felt like a dream come true. Here was a company that was going to encourage me to use my communication skills … to get other people as excited about food as I am.”
Carter, an English major at Kenyon, joined Imperfect Produce this year as a community associate, “spreading the ‘ugly’ produce word … through strategic partnerships, content creation, events and engagement.” She was inspired to work in the food industry after spending a year modeling in Paris, where she structured her life around picking and preparing produce from the local farmer’s market, and after her time at Kenyon, where she studied food access in Knox County and worked on sustainability efforts with Kenyon’s Environmental Campus Organization (ECO). After learning about Imperfect Produce as a projects intern for Blue Hill and Stone Barns’ wastED initiative, a pop-up that aimed to turn bruised vegetables and offal cuts into culinary masterpieces, Carter connected with Brock.
Their Kenyon education helps both graduates in their work at Imperfect Produce, which requires extensive communication and analytical skills. Carter also believes that the College’s emphasis on a passionate, friendly environment shapes the way she works today. “Kenyon instilled in me a collaborative spirit, which has been an important part of being a productive and supportive member of a team,” she said, noting that this positive energy is “the most satisfying part of my work at Imperfect.”
“Kenyon taught me that truly wise people find ways to share their knowledge and leverage it for positive social change,” Brock said. “Working with food, the impacts are so tangible, so powerful and relevant for everyone.
“I’m proud to help bring people together and nourish community,” he added. “Although food waste is such a powerful issue, there is something all of us can do to help build a healthier food system and a better world.”
—Anna Libertin ’18