I’m writing this on a sunny July Saturday. Produce at the farmers market is at its peak. We came home loaded with raspberries, strawberries, cherries, beets, spring onions, zucchini, peas, a red cabbage, basil, parsley, cilantro and a big question: How are we going to eat all this beautiful food before it goes bad?
Now I know the answer, although my shipment will not arrive for this week’s purchases. I have just ordered a ten-pack of FreshPaper from a social enterprise company called Fenugreen. The Web site compares them to a “dryer sheet for produce” – but without the chemicals that make dryer sheets toxic to the environment. These little squares of paper are completely biodegradable. They stop bacteria and fungi from having their way with your freshly picked blueberries.
What made me decide to try FreshPaper was watching the TED talk below. In it Kavita M. Shukla tells the story of how she stumbled onto this revolutionary idea.
She was visiting her grandmother in India and swallowed some tap water when she was brushing her teeth. She was afraid it would make her sick so her grandmother had her drink an infusion of spices and herbs.
She didn’t get sick, but she did get an idea the mixture might work for other things. Back home, she started dipping strawberries and other produce in the mixture of herbs and spices. That extended their shelf life dramatically.
She spent the next few years working out the right formula for infusing small squares of paper with edible organic extracts. That made extending the shelf life of fruits and veggies simple. Just pop a piece of the paper into a bag of produce, a container or a refrigerator drawer, and produce stayed fresh 2-4 times longer. She was still a 17-year-old high school student when she patented them in 2002.
She could see their potential for preserving produce and reducing waste in developing countries but had no idea how to go about setting up a social enterprise. She completed studies at Harvard, sold FreshPaper at farmers’ markets and dreamed.
A decade later after patenting the little miracle sheets, she and a friend, Swaroop Samant, founded Fenugreen. A Washington Post article tells the story of their first customer (Harvest Co-op in Cambridge). The co-op’s director of membership and community relations, Chris Durkin, decided to give FreshPaper a test with two baskets of unrefrigerated berries. The berries in the one without the little sheets shriveled in three days and went moldy in five. The berries with FreshPaper remained fresh.
The company has a vision that starts with food harvest and ends at the table, a dream of making the entire food system more sustainable. It is an important and achievable dream. In May 2011 the Swedish Institute for Food and Biotechnology prepared a report for the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization. In Global Food Losses and Food Waste, they reported that around a third of the food produced for human consumption every year is lost or wasted. That is nearly 1.3 billion tonnes of food.
The implications are staggering, and these little pieces of paper can change that picture. People in homes without refrigeration can use FreshPaper. So can farmers, food manufacturers, markets.
This little, unassuming square of paper just might change the world.