September 10, 2019
Students Pave the Way for Food Recovery and Food Access
By: Meredith Oglesby
Members of two student organizations found a way to share their passions and talents to improve food recovery and food access for the campus and Columbus communities.
Danny Freudiger, a member of Smart Campus Organization, and Mike Fackler and Timothy Kirby, members of the Food Recovery Network, were talking at the Ohio Union one day when the morning Food Recovery Network pickup began. That sparked an idea: How could the data expertise of Smart Campus Organization help the Food Recovery Network as it collects otherwise wasted food from on-campus dining facilities to distribute to local foodbanks in need?
“I love the mission: I loved what the Food Recovery Network students were trying to do,” Freudiger says. “I saw an opportunity to really make use of the food they are collecting and donating to try and more accurately capture that data.”
The two organizations decided to collaborate to precisely track the need for food collection and distribution to increase efficiency with a goal of optimizing university purchasing patterns.
“It was a serendipitous, out of the blue relationship,” Fackler says.
A Winning Opportunity
At about the same time, Ohio State Energy Partners announced the Smart Campus Challenge, a venture capitalist-style, sustainability competition where student teams pitch their ideas to a range of CEOs and Ohio State directors, students and professors for the chance to have their dream project funded. Ohio State Energy Partners, a joint venture of ENGIE and Axium Infrastructure, was selected in 2017 by Ohio State to operate, maintain and optimize the university’s utility system at the more than 400-building campus in Columbus, Ohio, under a 50-year contract.
Smart Campus Organization and Food Recovery Network entered the competition as a team called Wasted Opportunities, consisting of Danny Freudiger, a graduate research associate at the Center for Automotive Research; Timothy Kirby, a mechanical engineering graduate student; Mike Fackler, a fourth-year in environment, economy, development and sustainability; and Michael Sherping, a recent mechanical engineering graduate.
The Wasted Opportunities team won the competition, receiving $54,000 and a trip to ENGIE’s Innovation Week in Paris.
The team used the funding to purchase an electric vehicle to more efficiently deliver food to foodbanks. The team will also use the funding to develop technology that supports communication between University Dining Services and the students picking up food for real-time tracking to ensure a more accurate and efficient process.
During the week of June 17, Fackler, Freudiger and Kirby traveled to Paris for ENGIE’s annual Innovation Week, which celebrates the innovations from the company’s groups and business in the past year.
The team met ENGIE executives, Isabelle Kocher, Global CEO and Judith Hartman, chief financial officer.
They heard Christiana Figueres, an internationally recognized leader on global climate change, share her experience of helping to author the U.N. Paris Agreement of 2015.
They also listened to Ashton Cofer, a 17-year-old Columbus Academy student from Gahanna, Ohio, known for developing a process to convert Styrofoam waste into activated carbon for purifying water. Wasted Opportunities took that opportunity to encourage Cofer to attend Ohio State, and he joined them in forming O-H-I-O for a picture.
“It was very eye-opening to connect these eager-to-learn students with some of these people who are really making change across the world,” says Layne Toops, office manager for ENGIE at Ohio State, who provided leadership and support to the Wasted Opportunities team as they began to implement their project ideas. She also traveled to Paris with the team.
During a tour with ENGIE Digital, ENGIE’s software company, the Ohio State students met the digital communications and communities team and saw the behind-the-scenes work going into creating the software and development for smart cities and smart institutions. ENGIE Digital creates technology platforms for use at Ohio State and other universities.
The week wasn’t all business: The students saw the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, attended a Women’s Cup soccer game and enjoyed the sights and sounds of Paris.
Beyond the excitement of being in Paris for a week, the Smart Campus Organization in collaboration with Food Recovery Network received news they were awarded “Moving Forward Together: Paving the Way for Social Mobility,” a technology platform and support from experts in technology architecture for one year, valued at $150,000.
The competition was sponsored by Transitus, an Ohio-based non-profit organization focusing on innovative solutions to improve access to food, healthcare, and job and workforce development for underserved populations and communities. Competing teams proposed ideas on how to use the Transitus technology platform for on-demand transportation and logistics of people, goods and services.
The organizations leveraged the grant to include grocery delivery to students, especially those who live in the dorms who may not have a car to travel to the grocery store, and they added a logistics component to the work already being done by the Food Recovery Network.
Now, Buckeyes for Wellness, Kellogg-Moser Food Security and Sustainability Learning Community and Food Forest, a new grocery delivery start-up in Cincinnati, have paired with the Smart Campus Organization and Food Recovery Network students to discuss options for creating greater food access and healthy eating for students.
“These groups teamed together to form a more equitable food system for the university,” Fackler says.
The team’s plan is to use the technology to create a mobile app for students to purchase groceries that would be delivered to certain areas on campus for pick up. The goal is to fight technology isolation while allowing students access to food of their choice.
“It’s a very social place. People start to congregate and hang out and talk about ‘what did you get’ and share ideas like, ‘what are you going to make with that?’” Freudiger says.
Now, with awards over $200,000, the entire project between the Food Recovery Network and the Smart Campus Organization encompasses the idea for food access and food recovery. The students will use their new electric Nissan Leaf, the technology platform from Transitus and support from Ohio State Energy Partners to continue the implementation of these ideas on campus and in the Columbus community.
ENGIE will continue to engage students through career opportunities and create an understanding of their work and role as a university partner and global energy firm, Toops says. ENGIE internships are posted on Handshake. More opportunities for students, faculty and staff will be available soon.
“If students could see what ENGIE is doing,” Freudiger says, “they would be pretty excited about what ENGIE could bring to Ohio State.”
Meredith Oglesby is a student communications assistant at the Sustainability Institute at Ohio State.