Produce from UW research labs won't go to waste

McKenna Oxenden
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
UW-Madison student Hannah DePorter won a grant to supply students and faculty with excess research produce that will be distributed to four locations on campus using small and large refrigerators.

MADISON - Every day while working in a university lab, biology student Hannah DePorter sees produce grown for research wasting away in compost piles.

"There were just hundreds of pounds (of vegetables) left there," DePorter said. "I would just come home with a ton of vegetables and my friends would take it within three seconds and it would all be gone."

That prompted the University of Wisconsin-Madison student to develop Food Shed, an initiative to reduce food waste from research labs by making it easy for other students or staff to grab the free leftover vegetables.

The Food Shed will place four refrigerators around campus and stock them with the leftover produce, allowing anyone to reach in and grab some onions or lettuce, free of charge.

The food will be donated from labs and on-campus organizations such as F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture, which runs a garden, and the Allen Centennial Garden. Local farmers also could donate leftover produce to the fridges.

DePorter approached professor and researcher Irwin Goldman with her idea, and it took off from there. Goldman helped her apply for a grant worth about $5,000 to support the effort.

The term "food shed" represents the geographic region where food comes from, but DePorter's project name has a double meaning because the refrigerators act as actual sheds. The logo is adorned with pictures of Wisconsin-based produce like lettuce, carrots, broccoli and beets. It represents just a few of the options students and faculty can expect to see in the refrigerators, which will also likely include onions, squash and potatoes.

"It's pretty cool because I feel like it’s really rare for an idea to become exactly what it is," DePorter said. "So, we got this grant and we were just like, ‘OK it’s time to actually move forward.'"

Goldman said there will be numerous student volunteers who will stock the fridges weekly and make sure the produce is healthy and viable. He takes no credit for the initiative, emphasizing thestudents' pivotal role in bringing more food security to campus.

"This idea was developed by students to improve our campus," Goldman said. "I applaud them, and particularly Hannah, for their efforts to make our campus a better place."

The Food Shed initiative aims to redistribute fresh produce grown for research that might otherwise go to waste.

The refrigerators — two small and two regular size — are energy efficient and freezer-less to maximize space. The fridges will be placed around campus at Moore Hall, Allen Centennial Garden, Science Hall and the Student Activity Center.

"The amount of food wasted is in unbelievable amounts," said DePorter, a conservation biology major entering her senior year. "The world is hungry. People in the world are hungry."

"Not everyone knows where their food is coming from," DePorter added.