2016-17 Featured Students
Rejuvafruit (February 2017)
The journey in following a passion is one of discovery, challenge, patience and steadfast focus. Four Iowa State students have stirred passions to make a positive impact on the community.
Heidi Kalb, junior, Emily Zagula, senior, Paige Myers, senior and Katherine Cummings, senior, all studying global resource systems, turned their passion for food security into Rejuvafruit -- an organization dedicated to raising awareness about the impacts of food waste and enhancing opportunities for reducing waste and decreasing hunger.
“Nearly one third of all food produced goes to waste,” Kalb said. “That’s a lot of food, inputs, time and money that is lost in a world where not everyone has enough to eat.”
Rejuvafruit was established in 2015 when these students became a team at Iowa State to compete in the national Thought for Food Challenge. They were tasked to come up with a solution that would feed 9 billion people by 2050. Their solution was to take overripe or “ugly” fruits and dehydrate them to give them a longer shelf life. Not only did they envision a solution, they passionately pursued it.
In this pursuit, Rejuvafruit partnered with ISU Dining and the ISU Horticulture Farm. Although ISU Dining was taking its uneaten food items from campus dining centers and catering services to Iowa State's compost facility and not landfilling it, there were still uses for the food that was being wasted.
In 2016, Rejuvafruit won best overall pitch at the fifth annual Iowa State innovation pitch competition, sponsored and judged by local businesses.
They have also participated in the Young Entrepreneurship Convention Pitch Competition and the Okoboji Entrepreneurship Institute Competition.
The hard work that the team has put in to make Rejuvafruit so successful has been driven by their passion to make a difference in the world.
“We have received so much support for our business venture from ISU and other business professionals, which has been awesome,” Kalb said. “We have also received funding through pitch competitions that has reinforced that our vision can have a positive impact and has helped us take product testing and creation to the next level.”
That next level includes expanding partnerships with grocery stores and restaurants in and beyond the Ames community.
“The food that we use is [fruit] that would otherwise go to waste,” Zagula said. “We use apples that are bruised, bananas that have gotten a little past brown and other fruit that people may not want to eat fresh. By dehydrating it, we can still eat the food and it doesn’t go into a landfill.”
Currently, the dehydrated fruits are given out as samples to raise awareness for Rejuvafruit. In the future, the team would like to see the fruits donated to a local food banks in an effort to combat hunger in the community.
A big part of Rejuvafruit’s mission aligns with the viral “Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign.” Both work to raise awareness and offer solutions for food waste.
The Ugly Fruit and Veg Campaign uses social media to increase awareness and petition large grocers to sell "ugly" fruits.
Locally, Hy-Vee has began a similar program where they sell cosmetically challenged fruits and vegetables at a discounted price.
“The ugly food campaign promotes and makes people aware of produce that is not the prettiest, but still edible,” Zagula said. “Making people aware of the waste that happens is a huge step. We want to take it a step further to make sure that produce is consumed.”
The reduction of food waste encompasses all facets of sustainability. Environmentally, not only is food waste kept out of the landfill, reducing the amount of energy exerted to dispose of the waste is also decreased. Socially, additional food resources are created in an effort to feed more people.
Economically, Rejuvafruit saves businesses money by obtaining the “ugly” produce at little or no cost and, in turn, donating any and all profits toward food waste and nutrition education.
“Our main goal is reducing food waste and hunger,” Zagula said. “We recently decided to focus more on our core mission, so we are no longer trying to be just a business, but more an organization working to raise awareness, reduce waste and decrease hunger.”
The Rejuvafruit team is excited to focus on expanding their community engagement by partnering with local businesses and enhancing their sustainability efforts in new ways as they proceed into the new year.
In the upcoming year, look for passion to surge through Rejuvafruit's new adventures and accomplishments by following them on their blog, Facebook and Instagram. Anyone who shares the same passions with the team is welcome to contact them via email.
“We are always looking for ways to be more sustainable and make a bigger impact in food waste reduction and combating hunger in our own community," Kalb said.
Since their beginnings, some things have changed, but the passion for and mission to reduce food waste and decrease hunger remain the same. Though the team has faced some challenges, they have also fostered many connections and accomplished many things in the last two years.
“We have struggled with not always knowing the next steps, but our passion for the mission of sustainability and food waste has kept us going,” Zagula said. “I know we will continue working on these issues after our undergraduate careers."