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Project Avocado: Sharing food to build stronger community

Reducing food waste through food sharing and community building

Photo of DFA NYU
18 11

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During 2015, a team of DFA-NYU students become interested in the issue of food waste while participating in the Do Tank challenge on Food waste in NYC in Fall 2015. As we decided to keep working on this theme in Spring 2016, we realized that the issue of food waste was a salient one at the local level, and one very close to us: university and the students community.

We did some interviews and workshops at NYU, and realized that:

  1. There are many events in the university with free food but a lot of this free food ends up being wasted.
  2. Some students don’t necessarily eat enough but have insecurity regarding this, so they  feel ashamed about admitting it.
  3. Students would be willing to give up some food or take on food from others if there was a platform to do so.

Based on these insights, our team came up with an idea. We call this, Project Avocado.

Project Avocado Logo


It is a  platform for students, where they could share their excess (and good) food with other students before it goes to waste. This not only feeds those who are in dire need for food, but also helps build a stronger community, without wasting the food. This was our theory. But it is always different when things have to be practical. 

The end of each semester brings about two things: a lot of unwanted things the students had stockpiled during their entire school year, and excess food which they had purchased, but did not have time to consume.

We had conducted this experiment in early May of 2016, the time when the Spring semester was coming to an end. The prototype was set up in the GreenHouse Innovation Space of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. Students were requested to bring any good food which was still consumable, which they might have otherwise thron away. This food was to be shared (not donated) with students who needed it.

Students were asked to write their details and some more information regarding the food on a post-it. The post-its were colour-coded, and students were requested to use them accordingly. If they had not brought containers, we provided them with one. The post-it notes were then stuck to the containers.

Many students came to us asking for the food. Some even asked if they could take only what they needed. Students were also willing to accept uncooked foods (produce).

The team made two important observations:

  1. It did not matter to the students if part of the food which they wanted to take was already taken by someone else
  2. Most of those who took the food, wanted to express their gratitude to the person who shared it with them

We now know that there are students who willing to share food, and students who are willing to receive such food and show their gratitude. This is what building a better community is all about, and looking at it carefully, it will reduce food waste before the food actually gets spoilt.

And since we know that this works, we want to improve the platform and encourage students to be more participating.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We want to improve the first prototype, and develop a keycard lock system based cupboards, where students can give and take food. Many participants of the first experiment gave feedback stating that writing details is tedious. So we want to make an ID card scanning portal. The team will also create a unique print-on-sight barcode which can be used to store all the details and can be accessed on spot by a simple scan. We also want to use a smart fridge to be used for food that perish quickly.

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

How to encourage students to take part in this activity? What other places do you think we can do this? Do you think people will be willing to use a platform with human-computer interface? Do you think that it should be operated in a way such that the person who gave the food will not be able to take it back once they have shared it? Even though we have had students bring raw products, do you think it is a good idea to allow them? What are the health issues that we might have to consider?

Tell us about your work experience:

DFA-NYU is a student run Organization at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering. We use Human-centered design process to cause social impact. The Project Avocado team comprises of students of different schools of NYU

This idea emerged from

  • A group brainstorm
  • A student collaboration

How far along is your idea?

  • It was in the works before this challenge – it’s existed for 2-6 months

18 comments

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Photo of Brian Tang
Team

Great idea, and from my alma mater too (NYU Law School grad) !

Was wondering: do you think university students (and in particular NYU students) would be willing to walk around esp around the downtown area eg on their way back from classes to be food rescuers?  That is what we are proposing as part of our crowdmapping and gamification idea Be an Urban and Suburban Food Donor and Rescuer... Pokemon Go style!  - would really value your feedback, and would be great to find ways to collaborate! 

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
Team

Brian, you are right about the location. I guess the idea for Rodney Lobo and the team is to have a few prototypes on campus. The one at Tandon is the first because of ease of access and presence of the fridge and cupboard, and institutional support. However, the idea is to have other prototypes and pilots. It'd be great to have you contribute to the team (as a full time member or not). If you have time, please stop by to talk with the team on Friday for our DFA NYU Kick Off http://www.dfanyu.com/event/first-social-gathering-and-project-kick-off/meeting: http://www.dfanyu.com/event/first-social-gathering-and-project-kick-off/

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
Team

Brian, you are right about the location. I guess the idea for Rodney Lobo and the team is to have a few prototypes on campus. The one at Tandon is the first because of ease of access and presence of the fridge and cupboard, and institutional support. However, the idea is to have other prototypes and pilots. It'd be great to have you contribute to the team (as a full time member or not). If you have time, please stop by to talk with the team on Friday for our DFA NYU Kick Off http://www.dfanyu.com/event/first-social-gathering-and-project-kick-off/meeting: http://www.dfanyu.com/event/first-social-gathering-and-project-kick-off/

Photo of Brian Tang
Team

Haha Anne-Laure Fayard  - would love to swing by to speak with Rodney Lobo and team but am based in Hong Kong now !  ;)

Have a great meeting and please support Be an Urban and Suburban Food Donor and Rescuer... Pokemon Go style!  if you all think worthwhile ! 

Photo of DFA NYU
Team

Hi Brian Tang 
University students have a lot more coursework than high school student. So the chances of them doing this might be very less. However, High School students are always prepared to be food rescuers. This is something that sharemeals.org is doing currently, and the only incentive the students get is credit as a part of experiential learning.
So you might want to consider targeting high school students.

Photo of Brian Tang
Team

Thanks for the feedback DFA NYU !  You may be right, as we have received great response from eg, high school student Beckie Wei  . I wonder if the humanities majors may feel differently, and would appreciate any input you can get from them.  And the Share Meal initiative sounds interesting: if you know the organisers, I'd be pleased to be introduced to them too! 

Photo of Anne-Laure Fayard
Team

Thanks Brian Tang I checked your idea and commented on it. Thanks for sharing.

While it might be hard to swing by, I'm sure you can share some insights - as you've already done. Good luck with your project!

Photo of Rodney Lobo
Team

Hi Brian Tang 
I know Jonathan of sharemeals.org, you can contact them through this email address: nucleus@sharemeals.org
Meanwhile, take a look at this TEDx talk given by Jon. It is emotional and inspiring
https://youtu.be/k1b8oV7DI6s

Photo of Brian Tang
Team

Wow - thanks so much for sharing Rodney Lobo  ! 

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