February 17, 2016

Professor Creates Harvesting Model Designed to Improve Nutritional Value

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Miguel Gómez, associate professor in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, has assisted in the development of a new harvesting model to help food banks improve the nutritional value of the food they distribute to the hungry.

Gómez and Dyson grad Xiaoli Fan collaborated with researchers from Boston College to address challenges faced by food banks, according to Gómez.

“You have food wasted on one hand and malnutrition on the other,” Gómez said in a University press release. “The food banks can make this link, but there’s a logistical problem here. Our program contributes to a solution.”

The team has been working on improving the gleaning process for fruits and vegetables, according to Fan.

“Managing gleaning operations can be challenging because there are uncertainties in both the arrival of gleaning opportunities, such as when will a farmer call for donations and how much produce will be available, and the attendance of gleaning volunteers,” Fan said. “Also the gleaning window is limited because the donated fruits and vegetables will perish quickly on the field.”

Their research aims to help address these problems with an economic model to optimize the process, Fan said.

“Our model can determine the schedule, like the number of days in a week that the food bank will organize a gleaning trip, that maximizes the food bank’s social impact, like the volume of fresh produce donated through its network,” Fan said.

The team collaborated with the Food Bank of the Southern Tier, which serves six counties in southern New York, according to Fan.

“We used our model to derive general operational insights and applied the model to make specific operating policy recommendations to the Food Bank of Southern Tier,” Fan said.

Fan added that their study focuses on the gleaning of apples since FBST has already established gleaning operations for this crop.

“There is significant potential for increasing apple gleaning in New York’s Southern Tier area,” Fan continued.

Gómez, Fan and their colleagues plan to meet with FBST again soon to further improve their gleaning process, according to Fan.

“This model hasn’t been implemented yet,” Fan said. “We will meet with the staff from the FBST to see how to implement our model to help improve their gleaning operation.”

Their model will benefit both the farmers and the communities, Gómez said.­

“With your local communities, you develop social capital,” Gómez said, according to the University. “Farmers and volunteers get satisfaction from the good that they do, and recipients of food aid may consume more fruits and vegetables. There are benefits for everybody: better nutrition, reducing waste, developing community.”

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