By WINNIE BLACKWOOD
Recorder News Staff
JOHNSTOWN — Students at HFM BOCES PTECH are learning about problems in the food industry and creating ways to solve these issues through various projects.
This is the first time the PTECH students are partaking in an Innovations in Food project.
Sophomores had to present solutions to current problems in the food and agriculture industry and historical trends where people had to be innovative to achieve sustainable food production in an expo Thursday morning at PTECH’s school on Jansen Avenue in Johnstown.
“The topic of food really lent itself well to an interdisciplinary project because there are so many aspects of agriculture in the food industry that really address some of the different subject areas the kids are learning,” Anna Goderi, a PTECH English teacher involved in the innovations project, said.
In global studies, the students are learning about the innovations of farming, the agricultural revolution and how people overtime have been been able to feed and sustain themselves.
The ethics behind the food industry has been a focus in their business class. Land use and the environmental impact of agriculture has been studied in their environmental science course.
Students were allowed to pick a particular aspect of food that they were interested in and the presentations they created had a diverse range of topics and ideas, Goderi said.
Among the topics that were picked by students was how different foods affect mental health. Luz Fox, of Amsterdam, was one of the students that picked the particular topic to identify what foods have negative and positive impacts on mental health.
Foods that positively affect those with depression include poultry, vegetables and probiotics such as yogurts. On the other hand foods like processed and canned foods and refined carbohydrates, including white bread, can negatively affect individuals with depression.
Through her research, Fox discovered caffeine can negatively affect people with anxiety and ADHD, but a good diet of fruits, vegetables and fatty fish can help an individual.
“Overall the one thing I’ve realized from this is nutrition plays a big role in not just your brain, but every part of your body and it’s important to pay attention to,” Fox said.
Another group’s topic focused on urban farming, a practice used in cities. Produce in the city is expensive because it has to be shipped from a rural area, Katherine Knecht, of Mayfield, and a member of the group, said. She added urban farming also decreases plastic waste because there is no need to use large shipping containers.
“They can just be on the shopping stand in New York City or you can sell things to your neighbors, so you don’t need all this plastic waste,” Knecht said.
Other benefits of urban farming include improved air quality and to help feed the homeless because it is an inexpensive way to eat healthy foods, Knecht said.
Limited space, contaminated soils and lack of experienced workers are some of the disadvantages of urban farming because of city conditions, Hayden Lindsay, of Broadalbin, said.
Small scale urban farms can simply be plants grown on one’s windowsill, while bigger projects are growing produce on top of buildings’ rooftops and greenhouses, Lindsay said.
Innovations in food preservation was a topic picked by Montana Sheroka, of Amsterdam, Sebastian Handy, of Fort Plain, and Joshua Hughes, of Lake Pleasant. The group researched different food preservation methods including salt curing, olive oil, fermentation, freeze drying and dehydrating.
Many of the methods they researched have been used throughout history, but how they are used today is done through advanced technology. Handy gave the example that freeze drying was done prior by bringing food to the highest peaks of mountains to now using machines that can do it.
“A lot of the way food is preserved now is partially through chemical additives, which are usually used in tandem with one of these types of food preservation,” Handy said.
He added the general consensus for chemical additives in food is that they are not good for a person’s health, but other natural alternatives, like Apeel, are in the works to replace chemicals used to preserve food.
Apeel, a California-based company, uses fruit and vegetable extracts, like lipids and glycerolipids, to create plant-derived coatings to keep produce fresher for longer.
“While they are doing this they are limiting chemical use,” Sheroka said. “They are also allowing the fruits and vegetables to grow to their full nutrients, so it’s also great for the environment because obviously you are getting rid of the chemicals that we are using. But also it’s good for us because we are getting the right amount of nutrients and the full amount from what we are eating. It’s allowing us to purchase healthier produce.”