Clarissa Keiffer

Clay County High School senior Clarissa Keiffer combined her love of agriculture with a passion for science to capture the 2017 West Virginia Agriculture Student Innovation Challenge championship sponsored by the Robert C. Byrd Institute (RCBI), Eastern West Virginia Community & Technical College and the state departments of Education and Agriculture.

“Last year I gave a speech about food waste,” Keiffer explained. “It hit me hard when I did my research and found that 40 percent of all food is wasted.” She set about combing for a solution. Her search led her to develop a food preservation system that uses thermochromic pigments.

A sticker is placed on perishable foods such as meats, fruits and vegetables. When the temperature climbs about the optimal level for safety and/or freshness, the sticker changes color to warn consumers. If the food is returned to the recommended temperature, the sticker will not revert to the original color so consumers know the food was subjected to less-than-ideal temperatures somewhere along the supply chain.

“Clarissa is the type of young entrepreneur who can help lead the agricultural renaissance here in West Virginia,” said Bill Woodrum, director of Agricultural Innovations at RCBI. “The judges were amazed by her research project and presentation.”

Keiffer plans to continue her scientific endeavors upon graduation. She will attend West Virginia University and study immunology and microbiology. She eventually hopes to earn a doctorate degree and pursue research as a career.

“Last year I took an AP course in biology and my favorite lab dealt with the study of e. coli and how we can use research in this field to help people,” Keiffer said. “I decided I want to be a researcher in immunology.”

Keiffer developed an interest in agriculture when she was just 8, first helping her sister raise pigmy goats and then raising market rabbits herself. She joined FFA her freshman year and now serves as the organization’s president at Clay County High School.

As winner of the statewide competition in December, Keiffer earned a $500 grand prize and another $100 for her first-place finish in the Food Products and Processing category. Clay County teams earned first place in three of six categories. Other individual winners were:

Power, Structural and Technical Systems – Levi Hamrick and Colby Grose (Clay County High School)

Agribusiness Systems – Abigail Schoonover, Leighvi Cummings, Shayna Bennett (Clay County High School)

Plants Systems – Hayden Kestner (Sherrard Middle School)

Animal Systems – Ryan Anderson and Johnny Slattman (South Harrison High School)

Environmental and Natural Resources – Ivy Ward, Caite Walton, Cole Anderegg, Nathaniel Bailey (Buckhannon-Upshur High School)

More than 80 teams from across the state competed in the inaugural West Virginia Agriculture Student Innovation Challenge.