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THS students create award-winning app to curb food waste
THS software club
Turlock High School students Sufia Birmingham, Lilyane Stessman, Nate Haynam and Matthew Haynam are members of the school’s Software Club and were recently named winners of the Congressional App Challenge (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the country wasted 133 billion pounds — or $161 billion worth — of food in 2010. The United States aims to cut that number in half by the year 2030, and four Turlock High School students recently earned recognition for creating an app that could help.

Sufia Birmingham, Lilyane Stessman, Matthew Haynam and Nate Haynam were named by Rep. Josh Harder as the winners of the Congressional App Challenge in California’s 10th district for their app Foodwise, which alerts its users to the critical problem of food waste in the United States. The annual challenge give students interested in computer science, technology and coding the opportunity to compete on the national stage by developing an original software application, and winners are invited to attend a reception honoring their achievement in Washington, D.C., win $250 in Amazon Web Services Credits and are eligible to have their apps displayed at the U.S. Capitol.

congressional app
Turlock High School Software Club’s app, Foodwise, helps users reduce their food waste (ANGELINA MARTIN/The Journal).

According to Matthew Haynam, this is the second year that members of the THS Software Club have participated in the challenge. The team of four was inspired to create an app tackling the problem of food waste after a lesson in their AP Environmental Science class, they said, when they learned just how much food the nation actually wastes.

“One of the units in our class had us enter information into an ‘eco-score’ calculator, and we found that with the amount of waste we were generating, it would take 4.2 earths to sustain our population,” Nate Haynam said. “There was no setting that we could use to change that score or reduce it, and there was no information on how to make our score better and reduce our waste. So, we tried to create a food waste calculator that individuals could customize and use to help them reduce their waste.”

Foodwise includes an information page where users can learn more about the problem and receive tips on how to reduce their food waste, as well as a calculator where the amount of food wasted during each meal can be entered by the user that includes categories like dairy, meat, grain, plants and other. Then, the page calculates the cost of the food wasted. A calendar feature helps users see how much they waste day by day.

“They can track it monthly and weekly, and then each month they receive an update saying what they can do to improve in different categories,” Matthew Haynam said. “It helps you make a plan.”

“The app provides the amount of food you’re wasting in terms of the amount of money you’re wasting, so it incentivizes people to reduce their waste,” Stessman added.

The students worked on the app for about a month, they said, and hope to see it on cell phones one day. Later this month, the group will fly to Washington, D.C. for the March 24 #HouseOfCode event where they’ll present their app to members of Congress.

Local charities made the upcoming trip to Washington, D.C. possible by donating to the cause. The Kiwanis Club of Greater Turlock bought the students’ flights, and the Kayla Bernardi Bee Positive Foundation presented the team with $250 on Friday to help fund their trip.

The opportunity is not only an exciting chance to showcase their coding skills, but promote the subject to students both in Turlock and throughout the nation. At THS, the Software Club has grown from a small few to a group of 15. They travel to Turlock elementary schools to teach students about computer technology, and recently helped start a coding club at Cunningham Elementary School.

“We want to promote it to students in elementary school and foster their interests and passion for coding, because there are a lot of things they can develop in technology,” Birmingham said. “If they learn it at an early age and are inspired, they can go on to high school and join an AP Computer Science class or the Software Club, like us.”