Okanagan College Business Students Adapt FruitSnaps Project to Feed Those in Need During Pandemic
When the pandemic hit, they adapted. When greater need appeared, they collaborated. When an unthinkable tragedy struck, they supported each other through it. And when the chance came to share their idea with the country, they rose to the challenge.
It all started in the fall of 2018, when Okanagan College business student Abby Lagerquist noticed apples still on the trees at the end of harvest season. After inquiring with the orchard owners, she discovered that these apples were imperfect and would be left on the trees to rot (sadly, the fate of a half a billion apples across the country each year).
Before long, Lagerquist and her Enactus OC teammates formed an idea to pick and transform the apples into FruitSnaps, a healthy apple chip, that could feed children facing food insecurity in the Okanagan.
“In BC, 1 in 4 kids live with food insecurity, and for indigenous children it’s 1 in 2,” explains project manager Karsten Ensz. “FruitSnaps started out with Enactus OC delivering servings to schools, which also gave us the opportunity to teach the children about responsible consumption and sustainability.”
The team forged a partnership with the North Okanagan Valley Gleaners, a not-for-profit organization that dehydrates vegetables for soup mix to send to developing countries. The Gleaners allowed the team to use their facilities to dehydrate the unsellable apples.
BC Tree Fruits donated more than 10,000 lbs of apples that would have otherwise gone to waste.
In a little less than two years, the idea has grown into a project that has provided more than 4,000 students with access to a healthy snack, engaged 33 community partners, diverted more than 8,300 kilograms (18,500 pounds) of food waste, and helped to conserve an estimated 3,885,000 litres of water (a figure based on the amount of water required to grow an apple, multiplied by the number of apples spared from going to waste). The team has produced more than 35,000 servings, including 12,000 distributed internationally.
But that success has not come without adversity.
In February, the team earned top project at Enactus Canada Western Regionals, which earned them a berth to compete at Nationals.
Then the pandemic hit. Schools closed.
The team knew their distribution model, which had worked so perfectly for more than a year-and-a-half, would need not only to adapt but somehow also to expand, as students from across the region who counted on these healthy snacks would need them now more than ever.
In a matter of weeks, the students rapidly cultivated new community partnerships:
Starfish Pack in Penticton distributed packs across eight schools, Emmanuel Baptist Church in Vernon, supported 25 families with kids at Mission Hill School, the Salvation Army in Vernon and Salmon Arm arranged for deliveries to families, as did the Community Resource Centre in Salmon Arm.
The list of partners engaged and families supported continued to grow.
Along the way, they somehow found time to spark another innovative partnership – a collaboration with Enactus BCIT. The two teams are now working together to explore how they can bring solar technology into the dehydration process to up the sustainability factor even higher.
Their faculty advisor, Andrew Klingel, who is a professor with the Okanagan College School of Business, has been in awe of their efforts.
“Seeing the students adapt to all these challenges and to find ways to continue to bring this project to people in need in our communities has been incredible,” says Klingel.
“I think a lot of their success can be traced to their collaborative approach. It takes courage and it takes a lot of work to build strong partnerships like these, and they’ve been exemplary in the way they’ve gone about that. The partnership with the Gleaners is a phenomenal example, and the collaboration with BCIT is another. These students are used to competing against each other in regional and national competitions, and so to see the way they took a different approach and worked together has been very inspiring.”
Klingel also notes that the greatest challenge the students faced this year was not the pandemic, nor its ripple effects. It was the loss of one of their own.
In the early hours of March 18, OC Vernon student Sheryl MacIntosh tragically passed away in a motor vehicle accident.
It was a devastating blow for the FruitSnaps team and for the whole Vernon campus community, notes Klingel. She had been a pillar of the triumphant team that topped the podium at Enactus Regionals mere weeks before she died.
“I had the opportunity to teach Sheryl in several classes. She was an excellent student and a positive influence in the classroom, with boundless energy and a great sense of humour,” says Klingel. “I really enjoyed seeing her getting involved in Enactus, where she quickly became a leader. She ran the first pub night fundraiser on campus and made a huge contribution to the FruitSnaps project.”
“She was also a key member and a rock for the team at Regionals. She was always ready to help out a team member or crack a joke at just the right time.”
To commemorate McIntosh’s life and her dedication to her studies, her family is working with OC to put in place a lasting tribute.
“Sheryl has left behind a trail of beautiful memories. To honour Sheryl, the family, with the support of Okanagan College, will be placing a memorial bench at the Vernon campus,” said the McIntosh family.
Her teammates also rallied together to compete in her honour.
In late May, the team, comprised of Karsten Ensz, Abigail Underwood and Marin Carruthers, backed once again by their advisor Andrew Klingel, presented virtually at Enactus National Exposition. They faced peers from universities and colleges across the country.
Their passionate presentation earned them third place in the country for the Scotiabank Climate Change Challenge, just behind impressive projects by teams from Wilfred Laurier and University of Alberta.
“Our team put in a lot of hard work to make the project what it is today,” said Ensz. “We spent countless hours brainstorming new ideas and solving problems. It became very tiresome at points, but when we would deliver the FruitSnaps to schools and got to see the impact we were having it made us really appreciate the project. It is so rewarding to see kids get excited to eat FruitSnaps, nothing compares to that.”
Their efforts to adapt, overcome, and innovate were not unnoticed.
The project garnered two other awards: a newly minted Collaboration Award, which recognized the unique partnership between OC and BCIT on the project. Brad Egerton from the North Okanagan Valley Gleaners was honoured with Team Advisor of the Year. Additionally, Nicole Sapieha, the new President of Enactus OC, took home the Founder's Bursary for her superior leadership and team development skills; one of only 16 awarded across the country by the John Dobson Foundation.
“This project is yet another shining example of the resiliency of our students and the tangible positive impact they bring to their communities,” said Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton.
“They found a way to adapt and fulfill a pressing need for many youth and families. We are deeply proud of them for what they’ve accomplished, and we watch with admiration and excitement to see how they’ll continue to grow the project.”
Original article from Okanagan College