Making food last longer may be as simple as throwing a hole-punched golf ball into a bag of nuts or box of cookies, the winners of a nationwide student agriculture competition demonstrated.
Students at the Ayanot youth village worked with a 3D printer to generate perforated vessels of various shapes and sizes to hold absorptive silica gel, which when placed among produce or other foods, is capable of reducing moisture and thereby extending shelf-life, according to their presentation.
The students were the first prize winners of the Volcanivation: Innovation and Entrepreneurship Student Competition of Prevention of Food Losses, which came to a close at the Agritech International Agricultural Exhibition and Conference at the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds on Thursday.
“What we were judging was the innovation of it, the thought they put into it,” said Prof. Sheenan Harpaz, deputy director for research and development at the Volcani Center, who was one of the competition judges.
The Volcanivation competition, organized by the Agricultural Research Organization’s Volcani Center, called upon seventh-12th-grade science students to present their inventions targeting food loss prevention.
Seventeen teams took part in the competition, which was held in collaboration with the Agricultural Research Organization, the research arm of the Agriculture Ministry.
As consumers around the world continue to “buy with [their] eyes,” the students were tasked with proposing ways of minimizing food loss and thereby help curb wasteful behavior, Harpaz explained.
The students at Ayanot, near Ness Ziona, won first place and NIS 15,000 for their invention.
Two teams tied for second place and each received NIS 5,000 – students at the WIZO Hadassim Youth Village, near Netanya, for a magnetic pie chart that helps consumers calculate shelf-life, and a group at the Zalman Aran School in Rishon Lezion, who developed a “Greenup” application that teaches about proper fruit and vegetable consumption.
A team from the Arab village of Yama, in the Sharon region, won third place honors and NIS 4,000 for extracting oil from mint to be used as a topical applicant for extending shelf-life of tomatoes.
A fourth place team from the WIZO Nir Ha’emek School, in the Jezreel Valley, created a tool in which metal can be inserted, also to extend shelf-life.
The ninth-graders at Ayanot formulated their idea following several brainstorming discussions together with their guides, according to Avi Ben Shimon, one of the teachers who works with the students at their farming program.
“We decided to go with this idea because they were actually able to build the model with the 3D printing machine we had,” Ben Shimon told The Jerusalem Post.
Designing various types of suitable models by computer, the students were able to create small, perforated containers of many shapes with the 3D printer, he explained.
They then sought out a suitable absorptive material that could be inserted into the containers and reduce moisture in surrounding foods. Eventually, they settled on silica, and called the end result “Silica Fresh,” Ben Shimon said.
“By reducing the moisture, the shelf-life of different packages can be much longer and prevent mold from developing,” Harpaz, the competition judge from the Volcani Center, told the Post. “The nice thing about it is the fact that after it’s used you can put it in the microwave and the moisture will evaporate and you can reuse it.”
In addition to the golf ballshaped vessel that can simply be dropped into a bag of nuts, the students designed a dual purpose, cigar-shaped holder that can seal a produce bag by clipping onto the inside and keep its contents moisture free. Yet another type of silica gel container was a modular, connecting chain of vessels that allows for greater customization.
The students and their teachers have not decided what they will do with their NIS 15,000 in prize money, and will discuss possibilities soon, Ben Shimon said.
Harpaz praised the students for developing so many different types of models that could adapt to various types of foods and packages, thereby minimizing food losses.
The team of eighth-graders from the WIZO Hadassim Youth Village met with the Post following the competition to demonstrate their project – a tool to help consumers chart and remember how long produce they purchased stays fresh.
A square, magnetic card features a friendly cartoon carrot, who presents a pie chart divided colorfully into 30 days, with a dial that enables users to mark each day that their fruits or vegetables last, according to the group’s teacher, Haim Ziv. Next to the pie chart are bar codes to guide smartphone users to Volcani Center websites about food storage, he said.
By using the card, which can be easily accessible as a refrigerator magnet, consumers can track how long their produce lasts and thereby adjust their purchase quantities, the students and their teacher explained.
“What was special here was that they sat together as a group and though of the different aspects in it,” Harpaz said. “They tested it among their classmates and friends to see how it works.”
To examine the effectiveness of their creation, the students distributed about 100 cards to people willing to try them out at home, he explained.
Assaf Goldenberg, 13, one of the students on the team, said employing the cards gives consumers the ability to ensure that “less goes to the trash.”
“We think this is important because all the manufacturing of vegetables and fruits is expensive,” Goldenberg said.
“If you throw half that you buy to the trash, it’s a waste.”