Feeding 9 Billion Challenge Weekend in Review

Students working together in a mixed team

Author: Maggie McCormick, from our partner organization, the Food Institute of the University of Guelph 

It is no small request to ask university students to devote two days, in the midst of mid-term season, to design solutions to campus food security issues but students from across the country were willing to take on the challenge.

Student working at the Feeding 9 Billion Challenge

The Feeding 9 Billion Challenge, a student competition held in the wake of World Food Day, gathered 7 teams of students in the University of Guelph’s Summerlee Science Complex on October 17 and 18 to design real solutions addressing campus food problems.

“Spending countless hours surrounded by so many innovative, like-minded students who were driven to create change and minimize food waste in our community was such a fulfilling journey,” shared Monique Chan, a nutrition and international development student, following the Challenge.

Expanding on last year’s Food Waste Hackathon, this year’s event spread across the nation. U of G students worked in tandem with students from University of Manitoba, University of Fraser Valley and University of British Columbia. Thanks to live-streaming video the students had a chance to see what the other schools were up to as the weekend went on.

At the University of Guelph event, registrants reflected a range of disciplinary backgrounds: 27 in total. Facilitators David Kranenberg and Caitlin Colson encouraged students to imagine what a more secure and sustainable food system looked like and to use each other’s expertise to develop realistic solutions.

“These young change-makers created an energy for the 30 hours that was physically tangible,” said Kelly Hodgins, Feeding 9 Billion program coordinator, and Challenge organizer.

“Despite being tasked with tackling some really sticky concepts and problems, their enthusiasm didn’t flag,” she added. “Long after the facilitated portion of the event ended, the students worked through the night, setting times to meet for feedback from neighbouring teams, and initiating dance parties to keep weariness at bay.”

Six unique ideas from U of G students were sparked from the weekend’s Challenge and were presented Sunday afternoon:

  • An in-season food ID program in campus food halls to encourage in-season produce consumption
  • Converted shipping containers for vegetable production units that can also be used for research programs
  • A “biochar” composting program to provide a cost-effective composting program on campus
  • A U of G app providing food use and preservation information to prevent food waste by students
  • A certificate in food security education for U of G students that provides teaching experience in grade K-12 classes
  • A social gathering app that allows users to share ingredients they could bring to a potluck to prevent food waste

Team members Galiana Lo, Natalie Ng. Myra Siddiqi. Jonathan Mui, Ena Ristic, Maude Stephany, and Sathi Ranganathan, who worked on the U of G food app concept to prevent on-campus food waste took home first prize, but organizers and judges emphasized that each participant could take their idea to the next step.

Winning team poses with their awards

Professor Evan Fraser, who began the Feeding 9 Billion program in 2012 with a video series, has a vision for the Challenge.  He hopes it will provide students with a gateway to an even greater learning experience in food security, sustainability and social entrepreneurship.

As part of this, the participants were encouraged to enroll in the Idea Congress (ICON) course in the Winter 2016 semester. In this class they will work on concepts they presented at the Challenge, nurturing them into actionable business plans. By the time they complete the course, they will have resources to pursue the idea further, and seek grants, contests, mentorships, and other tools to make their idea a reality.

This year’s students can look to past Challenge participants as an example of using the competition has a catalyst.  After enrolling in the Ideas Congress course, participants from last year’s event continued to develop their Sustain-A-Bin idea, a compost bin that projects a dollar value by weight for the food deposited inside it. Sustain-a-bin team members have since won several funding contests for their project.

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