When big problems seem insurmountable, young minds often bring a fresh approach to viable solutions. NIU’s inaugural Huskie Hack event proved this point when it challenged students to come up with practical plans to improve food sustainability and the future of food resources.

In November, the Division of Research and Innovation Partnerships hosted this free student competition, inviting Huskie students, as well as students from other area Universities and colleges, to tackle one of three issues surrounding our food systems—reduction of food waste, regionalization of the food system, and human diversity in our agricultural system.

Fifteen teams participated in the two-day event, with students from NIU, College of DuPage, Lake Forest College, Loyola University, and City Colleges of Chicago taking part in the competition. Each team chose the food sustainability issue its members wanted to solve and continued to work overnight, with online presentations due to a panel of judges the next morning.

Bryan Flower, associate director of Food Systems Innovation at NIU, initiated and coordinated the massive event, which was held in the Holmes Student Center’s Duke Ellington Ballroom. Flower and a colleague within the DeKalb Area Agricultural Heritage Association, Mark Stelford, first began to discuss the possibilities for a similar food system-based event over a year ago.

“Mark had seen an agricultural tech hack-a-thon, and he knew our team was working to engage students in food sustainability. He said, ‘Is this something we can do?’” Flower said. “From there, the goal was to attract students from all disciplines to join in a societal hack to propose real solutions to these issues. We welcomed artists, makers, developers, project managers, historians, scientists, and others with unique skill sets. Everyone worked together to create and present innovative solutions.”

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