A Down-Home Approach to Meeting a Global Challenge

Alice HennemanAlice Henneman’s i-Three Issue Corps project promotes personal awareness and behavior change to reduce consumer food waste. Using educational tools consumers are familiar with, such as food audits, daily logs of food wasted and recipes that teach them new shopping and meal considerations, she is developing a whole new curriculum that she is rolling out locally for statewide and, potentially, national adoption. At the NeXC2016 conference, she networked extensively with other Extension professionals to test her concepts, collect suggestions and refine her project plan. Through working with the key informants she gained the confidence and tips encouraging her to “think bigger” and build plans for scalability into her project that are being realized as the project progresses. Alice is an RDN and University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Educator. She serves Lancaster County in Nebraska.

Throughout her life, Alice has had a close relationship with food from growing up on a farm to embarking on a career as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist who chose to focus on consumer food concerns. As an award-winning educator with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County, she is now recognized nationally and locally as a leader and innovator in food, nutrition and food safety education for communities, families, and individuals.

When eXtension announced the i-Three Issue Corps in late 2015, Alice anticipated it could provide the support she needed to develop an innovation for her program and organizational food website, food.unl.edu, which serves Nebraska as well as national and international visitors.

Making a Ginormous Task Personal and Doable

In particular, Alice values the time she spent with the key-informant experts, and how they provided a one-stop, multi-topic consultation. The Designathon helped her expand possibilities while also recognizing parameters, resulting in a more precise and concise roadmap for her project.

The innovation Alice was eager to pursue was ignited by an article in National Geographic Magazine on “Feeding 9 Billion” and the projection that by 2050, we’ll need to feed two billion more people.

Through research on the topic, Alice learned as much as 40 percent of the overall edible food produced in the United States is wasted each year. In response to this, Alice proposed an Issue Corps project to develop and add a comprehensive new education component to the food website, promoting awareness and practices for reducing food waste. Her hope for the project was that it would be scalable for use by the entire Cooperative Extension System.

“While many people think the solutions are mainly agricultural and commercial interventions and innovations, they really don’t realize consumers also CAN do something about it in their own food practices. They can be part of meeting the challenge, and each person can go home and begin immediately.”

An important tool in her education and behavior change plan is a food audit. Alice notes that there’s a laundry list of food waste reduction practices people can be encouraged to do, but that some are quite complicated and not scalable.

“Like with fitness or other habits, it helps if you keep track of what you waste as you do it,” she says.  “Better to do a simple audit for a day or week—similar to keeping track of what you eat–then you can go back and really think about it. Then you realize it’s YOU, and you can see what you can do about it. Awareness becomes personal.”

Moving Forward Quickly with a Multi-Faceted Approach

Alice is now working on developing resources, like the food waste audit tool to add to the food website and use in programming in Lancaster County and beyond. She credits the Issue Corps and the NeXC2016 Conference experience for moving her original concept rapidly into development.

In particular, Alice values the time she spent with the key-informant experts, and how they provided a one-stop, multi-topic consultation. The Designathon helped her expand possibilities while also recognizing parameters, resulting in a more precise and concise roadmap for her project.

At the conference, Alice spent a good deal of time talking and brainstorming with other attendees. She found that these discussions, as well as the communications experts’ advice, honed her approach for reaching consumers.

Trash can filled with food
As much as 40% of the food in the United States is wasted yearly.

“I came to realize that “Feeding 9 Billion” would not motivate consumers as it did me,” she admits. “I was coached to think about what resonates: money lost, and people like fresh food. Over lunch with another attendee who is in communications, she produced what is now my slogan: ‘Food Tossed Is Money Lost.’” Alice now has this up on Pinterest where it’s having an impact in Lancaster County and beyond, with people from other states joining her network and following the new content.

Finally, she’s conceptualized a new way of doing recipes to reduce food waste that educates about ways to prevent waste and what to do with what might become waste. She and her coworkers are working on special recipes for individuals and families, with many education topics integrated into them—feeding tips for children; food safety; and incorporating foods often consumed in less than recommended amounts, like fresh fruit and vegetables, into meals.

“Recipes can teach at the teachable moment,” Alice says. “If something is left over in a recipe, what can you do with it? It’s a time to think about providing answers to questions like, How do you freeze things for later use? How do you store foods for best safety and quality?”

Alice claims her i-Three Issue Corps experience made her “think bigger.” She is currently planning a presentation for a local medical center, “Leftover Makeovers and Refrigerator Reboots” which she plans to share with others and expand into such possible venues as online videos. She also is considering some type of downloadable eBook on preventing food waste when purchasing and preparing fresh produce, whether at a grocery store, farmers’ market or through a Community Supported Agriculture share.