A group of West Virginia University students is addressing the growing problem of “food deserts” in the state, as the combination of a declining rural population and below average income have left many West Virginians living significant distances from supermarkets and reliable food sources. That project, as it turns out, may not only help with West Virginia’s food access problem, but may also address the problem on a global scale.
Supply chain students at the John Chambers College of Business and Economics have struck a partnership with the Grow Ohio Valley organization in Wheeling on a project aimed at reducing food deserts. Through the partnership, 44 students from the supply chain technology course are helping Grow Ohio Valley get healthy and affordable food into the hands of those who want and need it, culminating with the May opening of The Public Market, to be located in the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Terminal in downtown Wheeling.
“This was a great opportunity to put all of these supply chain processes together,” said supply chain management associate professor John Saldanha. “At our business school, we believe that, in order to remain relevant, we owe these students opportunities to apply what they learn in a real-world environment. And this is a project for the greater good because it is addressing a real-world problem of food insecurity in West Virginia.”
According to U.S. hunger relief organization Feeding America, 267,280 West Virginians, including 75,970 children, are “food insecure,” meaning that they do not know where or when they will get their next meal.
Senior global supply chain management major and Pittsburgh native Rena Kobelak said the project has not only yielded new ways to help eliminate food deserts, but has provided valuable real-world experiences for students.
“With GOV’s newest retail outlet, the Public Market, opening in May 2019, we worked to build out their materials handling, production processes, demand management, retail offerings at the public market and the information management system from field to fork,” Kobelak said. “This is a victory all the way around. Wheeling area residents get fresh, healthy, affordable food. People who don’t have a convenient place to shop for good food will have one. And, this is a perfect example of experiential learning. We are working on addressing a social challenge. It’s not a nice clean situation wrapped up in a box for us to solve. We had to do research and really work hard on how to help make GOV’s efforts successful. This wasn’t easy, but it has been a really gratifying, real-world opportunity for all six groups of students.”
Holly Leister, a senior supply chain major from Montgomery, Pennsylvania, said the project applied the principals students learned in Saldanha’s class, including what customers want. Leister added that the GOV project will go far beyond fruits and vegetables, providing value-added products like frozen foods and healthy choices for working families and people with busy home schedules.
“Customers want the 7 Rs: the right product at the right place at the right price for the right customer in the right condition at the right time in the right quantity,” Leister said.
Grow Ohio Valley was founded in Wheeling in 2014, and has completed the conversion of two acres of abandoned urban land into diversified vegetable farms and an additional 3.5 acres in production at a rural farm site. In 2017, GOV also planted a 3.5-acre orchard in collaboration with the Wheeling Housing Authority.