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High school student launches fresh fruit rescue project

OVERLAND PARK, Kan. -- It’s the time of year when many of people do good things to help others in need or contribute to charity or service causes that help those people.  The FOX 4 Young Achiever of the Week keeps that in mind every day of the year and has started projects and organizations to get the rest of us involved, too.

Like lunch time at schools all over the U.S., students at Blue Valley West High School throw away a lot of food, including the fruit or vegetable they have to take so they don’t get charged more than the student price for their meal.  Seeing so much good produce being tossed in the garbage moved senior Abby Mitchell to action.

“Here at West, we’re going to start a program,” Abby announced to her schoolmates during a recent lunch period.  “It’s called the Fruit Basket Initiative.  We’d love it if you guys would be willing to donate your fruit after lunch if you choose not to eat it.”

Abby is launching her food rescue initiative at West to get her peers to put their fresh, unpeeled whole fruit into special collection bins instead of the garbage.  Then it will be donated to Harvesters, the large regional community food network.

“So we definitely are looking to help those food insecure in our area,” said Abby.  “One of Harvesters great needs is fresh produce and vegetables.  Why not help when we have all of this going to waste?  Why not help someone else with something that we already have?”

Abby has done a lot of volunteer work already at Harvesters and other local charities that concentrate on community food and nutrition needs.  Her Fruit Basket Initiative at West will start after the holiday break and it will be run through SPOTS, a student community service organization Abby founded at school last year.

“We’re working on education currently, trying to get the students more aware of what’s going on and how the project will work so that when, hopefully, we get back for next semester, it’ll run smoothly,” said Abby.

Abby’s focus on food security goes beyond rescuing fresh fruit at school lunch and way beyond the Blue Valley West cafeteria.  She’s taking courses taught by Joe Whalen in the Global Food Industries program at the Blue Valley School District’s Center for Advanced Professional Studies (CAPS.)  It’s a broad spectrum overview of the world’s food systems including the pressing issue of food security.

“When we are talking about adding another two billion people to the Earth by 2050, this is something that Abby’s generation is really going to have to contend with,” said Whalen.

Abby already is.  Through Whalen’s program at CAPS, she earned her way as a Kansas student delegate to the recent World Food Prize national conference in Des Moines.  She got to interact with some of the world’s great leaders and innovators in dealing with international food and nutrition needs.

“It helped her understand how she can really, beyond just the desire to help, really see what actions she can take and playing on her own individual strengths to help fight world hunger,” said Whalen.

“They were so passionate about their jobs and what they love and all the people they’re helping,” said Abby about her participation in the World Food Prize conference.  “It was such an amazing, inspiring experience.”

From her World Food Prize research and as an entry in the Greater Kansas City Science and Engineering Fair, Abby is working now on designing and building a prototype for a new kind of inexpensive decomposing toilet for use in Third World nations to reduce the amount of human feces that gets into the ground water and food sources and at the same time produce methane to power home generators, farm equipment and irrigation systems.

“She’s really, from day one, has shown strong initiative toward anything she approached in this class,” said Whalen.

“I really have this love for problem-solving and finding a problem and really just buckling down and fixing it,” said Abby.  “But, as well, I fell in love with food insecurity and food systems and the people aspects behind the food.”

Abby’s going to take those interests and her research to study in the general agriculture program at Kansas State University next year.

“I want to help right here at home and fix this and help make sure everyone is food secure here and then we can talk about international,” said Abby.

Always keeping the important work of fighting hunger on a world scale in her sights. Abby’s been a Girl Scout for years.  Her fruit rescue program at Blue Valley West High will help her win the Girl Scout Gold Award.  It’s the organization’s highest member honor.


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