Campus - 31.03.2022 - 00:00 

"Apple Heroes" versus Food Waste

Many apples that do not meet Swiss sales standards are thrown away. HSG students Stefan Birkenmaier, Gina Lutz and Patric Weil are working towards a more sustainable solution with their "Apple Heroes" project. They are designing workshops for school classes in which children can turn apples with blemishes into applesauce. By student reporter Adria Pop.

31 March 2022. The concept for "Apple Heros" ("Apfel-Helden") was developed in the autumn of 2020 during the Master's course "Sustainable Startups" led by Dr. Patrick Stähler. This included the development of a sustainable business model and its implementation. After consulting the consumer side, the students decided on the topic of "food waste".

"It's about a problem that is in front of our eyes that too few are still standing up against," says Weil. "Many take the products in the supermarkets for granted. Most people don't even know about crooked carrots, everything is always perfect for sale. But it doesn't have to be, and that's what we want to help promote," adds Birkenmaier.

Bringing children into contact with sustainability

The workshop designed by the Master's students should be as user-friendly as possible for teachers. The programme content, applesauce recipe and structure of the two-hour learning unit are therefore offered by the students as a free service on their website for interested teachers. The target group for the workshop is primarily primary school classes. Patric Weil used Benjamin Franklin's quote as a leitmotif for the workshop for children: "Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn." Birkenmaier and Weil emphasised the importance of practice-oriented learning in addition to the theoretical. Children should come into contact with the topic of sustainability for the first time by working the apples into applesauce on their own.

Platform for farmers and schools

The core activities of the students consist, among other things, of providing optically flawed apples that are not suitable for sale in supermarkets. To provide the fruit, they cooperate with Tobi Seeobst AG, which teachers can contact directly. They thus offer a platform to farmers and schools through their website.

"Without having to spend all our time on it, the workshop can be made accessible to a wide audience and interested parties," says Birkenmaier. Instead of income, it is purely the emotional that drives the continuation of the project. They financed the establishment of the necessary structures of "Apfelhelden" themselves.

"We are people standing outside the teacher-pupil relationship who want to teach the children something separate from everyday school life," Weil explains. Even if what they do does not directly involve pedagogical work, the Master's students often visit the schools during one of their workshops. Birkenmaier and Weil really appreciate the interaction with the children.

In the future, they want to make their project more widely known through various social networks. To this end, they plan to professionalise their own website. They are also planning to found an association. It is also likely that the project will be expanded to include a larger selection of recipes, depending on the seasonality of the food.

Creating awareness for food waste

For Stefan Birkenmaier and Patric Weil, the visit of the first school class and the execution of their self-created learning unit was a memorable moment: "We realised how much we can give. We got a lot positive feedback from the teachers and children."

The "Apple Heroes" project shows that good ideas can be simple. Games like blindly guessing the condition of apples by tasting them can explain important things to the children in a playful way. For the students, the findings of the pupils that the appearance of the fruit does not necessarily say anything about the taste are milestones. From the workshops, the children would take home an awareness of food waste in addition to the homemade apple sauce in a preserving jar. What they learn would also reach their parents through the pupils. "Apfelhelden" assumes that it can achieve the greatest possible long-term impact with school children as the target group.

Putting theory into practice

For Birkenmaier and Weil, the theories and concepts they learned in the Master in Business Management (MUG) at the University of St.Gallen were fundamental for the implementation of the project. The strategic approach, the development of business models and long-term thinking helped "Apfelhelden" to be successful. In the course "Sustainable Startups", they learned in particular that for a business idea, you always start by looking for an existing problem before you start working on an idea. In the implementation, they again encountered challenges in the form of rejections from both schools and farms, which demanded their patience.  "There's no such thing as too easy," says Weil. With this concluding statement, he wants to encourage his fellow students to take similar projects.

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