In a world of food trucks, sparkling drinks and grill marks, ASU’s Prepped program will give sustainability a seat at the table.
The program offers free guidance to early-stage food businesses owned by women and underrepresented groups who are looking to better understand and expand their culinary reach. According to the Prepped website, the program best aligns with caterers, food trucks and farmers' market products.
In addition to teaching business owners about food cost and permits, the program will officially add sustainability to the curriculum in the Spring 2020 semester.
Natalie Morris, the program coordinator for Prepped, said sustainability is a crucial addition to the food industry.
“When we talk about sustainability in our lessons, we have an underlying theme: It’s not as hard as it sounds,” Morris said.
The program, which is a partnership between the ASU office of Entrepreneurship + Innovation and the Edson College of Nursing and Health Innovation, provides weekly classes, one-on-one mentorship and financial support for various permits and program-related business expenses.
She said the program encourages businesses to incorporate sustainability into both their current and future budgets. This, Morris said, keeps businesses accountable in expanding their sustainability efforts as their income grows.
She said that as a program that aims to help women and underrepresented minority groups, she hopes Prepped will not only encourage businesses to go green, but also further encourage the participants to succeed in an industry that can be difficult to enter.
"We wanted to offer a place where these businesses could network and build a community within the greater Phoenix community," Morris said.
Kristen Osgood, a program manager at the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Service, has worked with Prepped as a lecturer. She said she is excited for the program to officially include sustainability.
“There is a disconnect from the food system and some of the effects of our current agricultural practices,” Osgood said.
She said some of the greatest contributors to waste and environmental harm by the food industry are shipping in produce and plastic useage. However, awareness and innovation can help address and eventually solve the issue.
“When you have chefs and food business owners who don’t understand the harmful practices, they’re going to continue to buy food from that system,” she said.
Prepped piloted the sustainability addition in the last year, leaving participants with a heightened awareness of what they can do to make a change.
Irene Gonzalez, co-owner of Cantaguas and a Prepped participant, said the program was an eye-opener that has impacted both her business and professional life.
“It was quite the journey,” Gonzalez said. “We’re still trying to figure out what we can do to go completely green, but it’s nice to know that you can make a difference in the little things you can change.”
The Cantaguas menu includes aguas frescas, a traditional Mexican beverage that is made with fruits and vegetables. Gonzalez said the drinks are made with local produce in an effort to reduce the business’ carbon footprint and give money back to her community.
She also said Prepped offers not only classes, but also a new culinary family and support system.
“Coming from both different backgrounds and sometimes the same background, (the Prepped community) was a place where we felt safe to talk about the things we were doing well on and the things we needed to improve,” Gonzalez said.
She said the program offered both a supportive community and solid lessons that advanced the businesses.
"We started this business having no idea what we were doing, and we were able to grow as a business and find a family at the same time," Gonzalez said.