Her journey started in 1997. Kavita Shukla had just finished brushing her teeth at her grandma’s house in India. But unlike the previous time, she had accidentally swallowed some tap water. Troubled, she goes to her grandma who whips up a spice concoction and tells her to drink it. The remedy worked like a charm – it prevented her from getting sick.
Shukla went back to the US where she started working on a middle school science project. She remembers that experience at her grandma’s house which piqued her curiosity. Doing some experiments, she found that certain spices from her grandma’s mixture were able to inhibit the growth of common bacteria around the kitchen.
She began testing with strawberries, dipping them in fondue style into her mixture. Her mom would tell her to pick out a box of strawberries but in each container there were always a few that were already rotting. To her amazement, the strawberries that were dipped into the mixture compared with those that weren’t remained fresh for longer. She tried with other fruits and vegetables and saw the same results.
In high school, she developed a product called FreshPaper, which is a paper infused with edible, organic botanical extracts, and was awarded a patent.
Despite being a simple idea, Shukla believed her product would create significant impact. It was no mystery – researchers have found that if you have a diet full of fruits and vegetables, you will improve your overall health and live longer. The challenge is, not all of it ends up getting eaten – and it’s not because of choice. An estimated 25 percent of the world’s food supply is lost to spoilage and with it comes immense wasted energy costs.
While refrigerators slow down the rotting process, approximately 1.6 billion people worldwide don’t have access to one. Her product provides an inexpensive way to keep food fresh for 2 to 4 times longer. To use, FreshPaper is simply placed where produce gets stored – a fruit bowl, bag, or drawer in the refrigerator. Each sheet lasts two to three weeks, or when the maple scent – which comes from an ingredient used in maple syrup called fenugreek – fades.
Shukla took FreshPaper to villages in the developing world but learned “how hard it can be to give something away for free.” Perhaps there wasn’t any real-world application for the paper, she thought.
In 2011, with the rise of the local food movement, she gave new life to the idea and brought a handmade batch to a local farmers market. She started a social enterprise called Fenugreen (inspired by fenugreek) to distribute FreshPaper and began selling it at a local grocery cooperative.
The feedback was beyond positive. People chased her down parking lots to tell her that FreshPaper made it possible for them to eat local and buy organic, and to eat fresh fruits and vegetables on a regular basis.
With a boost of confidence, Fenugreen began to think bigger. They envisioned a world where everyone has access to fresh produce that is not limited by distribution systems.
Last year, the company began distributing their product through Whole Foods. Making strides towards their “fresh for all” motto, they launched a “buy a pack, give a pack” model to help food banks when Hurricane Sandy hit the Mid-Atlantic states.
In September, Fenugreen received another shot of confidence. Along with four others, they won the 2013 INDEX: Award, the world’s biggest design prize (€500,000) that recognizes designs improving life.
To match expectations and continue making grandma proud, Fenugreen is presently establishing initiatives to benefit local food banks in the US and small-scale farmers in the developing world.
Photo from Fenugreen.
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