Don’t send the kids out of the room just yet. This isn’t a story about the birds and the bees, but one about Mike Yurosek and his lumpy veggies.
Like other plants and animals, not every carrot gets the good genes and a nice environment and turns out perfect. Some of them get pulled up from the ground lumpy, twisted and just plain ugly. Farmers know that even if an ugly carrot tastes better than any other carrot that ever existed, it won’t sell simply because it looks weird.
Every year Yurosek, a California farmer, culled and threw away tons of vegetables too ugly for supermarket shelves. In some harvests, 70 percent of his carrots were tossed. Most culled vegetables wind up getting fed to farm animals, but pigs and cows can only handle so many carrots. After a while, their fat turns orange, and meat is about as useful at the market as a lumpy carrot.
Mike Yurosek's Food Revolution
In 1986, Yurosek came up with a solution to his ugly carrot problem. He would cut the carrots into smaller, sleeker, better looking forms, like a plastic surgeon for vegetables. He took the culled carrots and cut off any lumps and twisted parts. He was left with a perfect-looking mini-carrot just a few inches long, which he then peeled.
The first experiment in baby carrot-making was done by hand with a potato peeler and a paring knife. After a few batches, Yurosek was thankful to find a used industrial green bean cutter — a frozen food company had gone out of business and posted an ad — that could cut the carrots into uniform 2-inch pieces. To finish the job, he just had to take the cut-up carrots to a packing plant and throw them into an industrial potato peeler.
Yurosek sent some samples of his little carrots along with the regular load to one of his best customers, the Vons supermarket Los Angeles. The produce manager and the customers loved them; Yurosek has said the store called him the next day to say they wanted only the baby carrots in the next shipment. Within a few years, more supermarkets started carrying Yurosek’s little carrots and the world of produce changed forever.
Yurosek died in 2005, but his name and his invention live on in the carrot business. Between the two largest carrot producers in the U.S., one continues to use a logo that Yurosek’s wife drew decades ago and one employs Yurosek’s grandson as director of agricultural operations. Baby carrots, meanwhile, continue to be a multimillion dollar industry.
Baby carrots made in the Yurosek style are often labeled as “baby-cut” carrots in stores. There’s actually a second type of baby carrot available that’s specifically grown only to the “baby stage” and harvested long before the root reaches its mature size. They’re usually more expensive than baby-cut carrots, but fans of true babies will tell you that they’re worth it and have a superior texture and sweeter taste.