Last weekend, a team of five Bowdoin students tied for first place in the second annual Maine Food System Innovation Challenge for their proposal to turn wasted  grain from breweries into flour. Bowdoin hosted the event, which brought college students from all around the state to create new ways to reduce food waste in Maine and support the local food production and distribution. 

Eliza Huber-Weiss ’17, one of Bowdoin’s team members, explained that much of the grain waste produced at Maine’s craft breweries is edible and can be turned into flour and used for other purposes if processed correctly.

“We talked to breweries about how much waste they were actually producing. We talked to farmers who were taking that waste already and seeing what the issues were,” Huber-Weiss said.

Teams came up with their ideas before the competition, then spent the weekend refining their pitches before ultimately presenting a business plan to a set of judges. 

The Maine Food Innovation Challenge first took place last year, bringing college students and community members who had ideas and some experience with production, aggregation, processing and marketing that would help improve local food production. 

Emeritus Professor of Biology and Biochemistry Thomas Settlemire was one of the founders and a facilitator of the event.

“The whole purpose of this thing is to try and create awareness within bright minds [of students] as to what this problem is all about, how can we create a new economic incentive to make it work, what’s that economic incentive and do it in a constructive positive way,” he said. 

This year’s competition tasked students with coming up with an idea to reduce food waste.

In the United States, it is estimated that about 40 percent of food produced is wasted, according to Settlemire. This is due to several factors including the poor harvesting and losses in the supply chain and in the market. 

Huber-Weiss acknowledged that the group’s brewery plan would only make a small dent in the major problem of food waste.

“Our business does not solve food waste, but it does maybe aid in the process of reducing food waste,” she said.

She also felt that the event helped her connect with people outside of Bowdoin who work in the same field she aspires to someday join. She plans to continue meeting with the Bowdoin group, and has thought about the possibility of starting a flour business after she graduates.

Settlemire was also pleased with the event. 

“It’s a wonderful way to take a real problem … [and] create an enterprise that Bowdoin students actually run,” he said.