A Lesson in Reclaiming Waste

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In the late 1980s, Mike Yurosek was frustrated. He was a carrot farmer who had to discard 400 tons of carrots every day because they were not “just right”. Carrots that were broken, twisted, slightly bruised, or otherwise imperfect simply wouldn’t sell in stores. Buyers were so picky that in many cases, 70% of the crop was tossed out. In an attempt to cut his losses, Mike processed his carrots in a completely new way…

Mike realized that if he cut the carrots down, the imperfections would disappear. In an interview he explained,”The first batch we did, we did in a potato peeler and cut them by hand”. It was later that he bought an industrial green-bean cutter which cut the carrots into even, 2-inch sized pieces: the baby-cut carrot. It was an instant hit and extremely profitable too.

Mike Yurosek with his baby-cut carrots Photo via USA TODAY
Mike Yurosek with his baby-cut carrots
Photo via USA TODAY

Farms sold whole carrots for 10 cents a bag, but could land 50 cents for a pound of baby-cut carrots. Grocery stores were selling the bags at twice that price, and consumers gladly paid. Carrot consumption increased from 6 pounds per person per year in the 1970s, to 11 pounds in 2002! The waste of carrots dropped substantially.

A carrot harvester at work
A carrot harvester at work

Today, harvested carrots are sorted by thickness, with thin and malformed carrots being cut. Each carrot is cut into 2-inch pieces, while a camera watches for green pieces to remove. They are then peeled twice: once to get the general smooth shape, and a second time for “polishing”. Finally, they are treated with a little bit of chlorinated water to prevent microbial contamination before being sent out to the world. A process that began with a green-bean cutter, now has a streamlined process of its own.

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