Youth to combat food waste

Over a third of all food produced globally goes to waste, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. And, the U.S.-Mexico border region is no stranger to this issue.

Waste Not: Borderlands Innovations in Food Waste Management (Waste Not) will engage Nogales high school students to address food waste in the community and develop business ideas to combat the issue.

“In small and rural communities, especially in the U.S.- Mexico borderlands, there is a wealth of traditional knowledge and a wealth of eager and excited young emerging leaders that are just looking for opportunities like one that we pose in the Waste Not project,” Leia Maahs, Southwest Folklife Alliance (SFA) managing director, said.

It is funded by the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice at the University of Arizona and is designed to be a two-year program for the participants.

“Inviting young people to find the beautiful expressions and experiences that are happening within their own culture, within their own community will be extraordinarily pivotal in them seeing the assets within their community,” Maahs said.

She explained that people often notice the deficits and downsides of disadvantaged communities, but it is important to shift that paradigm to celebrate the unique knowledge of different areas.

“I think we see a lot of narratives that comes out of border communities. And, the stories are told from other people who are living in other places and so being able to empower young people to really share what they see as the strong, empowering assets within their own community could have a long-term impact,” Maahs said.

Waste Not is managed by the SFA, Startup Unidos and the University of Arizona (UA) Office of Sustainability and its student-operated Compost Cats.

SFA will focus on the ethnographic process of observing and documenting and Startup Unidos will tackle the entrepreneurial part of the program. The UA will focus on sustainable food mechanisms, investigation and community involvement.   

Waste Not is currently in the application process and ten high school students will be selected to participate in the program.

This spring, the participants will learn how to document, interview, write reflectively and observe with SFA through intensive workshops on the ethnographic processes.

The participants will work with individuals in the community to learn about their “experiences with sustainability and with techniques of food waste management. So, we’ll do that deep dive in documentation first from a very localized perspective,” Maahs explained.

Come summer, the high school participants will work with UA students through the UA Compost Cats and Office of Sustainability. They will focus on deeper investigations and work on sharing that with the community at large.

During fall, the students will work with Startup Unidos for startup innovation training.

“Once young people have had an opportunity to do this documentation and use those skills, they’ll start looking at learning about the startup community and [how it] prepares individuals to be entrepreneurs,” Maahs said.

She added, “Within that time frame young people will also be engaging with leaders in the produce industry.”

After that, the participants will develop potential business plans in managing food waste.

“The idea that we may be able to inspire those young people to stay within their community and see the University of Arizona as a support mechanism and pipeline to education closer to home in addition to having a stronger celebration of resources within the community,” Maahs said.

Sierra Ciaramella

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