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Ten Young People Who Are Changing the Food System

Young entrepreneurs ranging from ages 12 to 27 are shaping the food system with innovative products and programs. (Fresh Tilled Soil)

Innovations in agriculture don’t just come from veteran environmentalists or food industry heavyweights. In fact, many inspiring projects are the creations of youth around the world. Food Tank is excited to highlight ten young foodies who make us more hopeful about the future. 

Nikhil Arora and Alex Velez, 26 and 27, graduates of the University of California, Berkeley, turned down offers to enter the world of consulting and investment banking to pursue mushroom cultivation. The pair had been experimenting with growing mushrooms on coffee grounds, and after a successful bucket of oyster mushrooms, they launched Oakland-based Back to the Roots. They offer two main products: mushroom kits, which grow mushrooms in a cardboard box, and AquaFarm, a self-cleaning fish tank that uses the fishes’ waste to grow food. Their mission is to “make food personal again through the passionate development of tools that educate and inspire, one family at a time.”

Nicky Bronner, 17, has a sweet tooth, but he found himself butting heads with his parents who didn’t want him filling up on processed candies and junk food. Unwilling to sacrifice peanut butter cups and chocolate bars, Bronner, then 13, worked with his father to found Unreal Foods, which produces preservative-free candies. They are made with grass-fed dairy and fair trade cocoa. The products have made their way from the Bronners’ home outside Boston, Massachusetts to major retailers such as Target, Kroger, and Wegmans.

Tyson Gersh, 25, is owner and founder of the Michigan Urban Farming Initiative (MUFI), a nonprofit organization dedicated to engaging community members in sustainable agriculture projects on vacant lots. Such projects produce nutritious food while raising community awareness of urban farming. MUFI engages 2,500 volunteers and grew more than 10,000 pounds of produce this year alone. “Using agriculture as a platform to promote education, sustainability, and community—while simultaneously reducing socioeconomic disparity—we hope to empower urban communities,” Gersh writes.

Eve and Liam Knight, 12 and 13, are better known as the Spice Kidz. When the duo moved from Ireland to Pensacola, Florida, they were disappointed by the lack of curry. To remedy the situation, Eve and Liam decided to introduce an easy-to-use spice packet to Americans. The pair won an entrepreneurship competition at the Young Entrepreneur’s Academy of Greater Pensacola; their product is now sold at a local store. "We want everyone in America to have curry for dinner," Eve said, "and we want them to have it once a week."

Emily Meko, 23, is founder and owner of Eat What’s Good, a vegan and gluten free vendor of packaged and prepared foods. The company also provides consulting services, meal planning, catering, and menu development. The Ontario resident, a culinary student who has also studied food science and human nutrition, hopes to get people excited about organic, healthy food. “It's where healthy meets delicious, and getting away from the idea that healthy food has to taste institutionalized and boring,” she said. Meko’s products are already featured at a nearby wellness clinic as well as a yoga studio, and she hopes continuing expanding her range of vendors.

Benedict Mundele, 20, founded Surprise Tropicale, a food take-away and catering business, the idea for which she developed when she was in high school. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) resident started off by giving free breakfasts to members of the Kuvuna Foundation, an organization dedicated to sustainable development, leadership development, and support for entrepreneurs. Mundele, who is studying social communication at the Catholic University of Congo, said that although her country has plenty of fresh food, it is often exported, processed, and imported again where it is sold at higher prices. She wants to keep the DRC’s fresh food fresh and hopes to soon supply her foods to local supermarkets. Mundele is a World Economic Forum Global Shaper and will attend the World Economic Forum on Africa in Nigeria this year.

Ben Simon, 24, is executive director and a founding member of the Food Recovery Network (FRN), a network of college chapters whose mission is simple: direct surplus food from their campuses to hungry Americans instead of to landfills. The University of Maryland graduate started the program with several other students; now three years later, the organization boasts more than 95 chapters across 26 US states, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. Since 2011, FRN has donated more than 400,000 pounds of food, and Simon was awarded US$10,000 by the Do Something campaign in 2013. FRN hopes to be on 150 campuses and have donated 610,000 pounds of food by May 2015. “An amazing amount of food gets thrown into a trash can,” Simon said. “It evokes a very innate response to jump to action.”

Remmi Smith, 14, has launched an online cooking show and a spin-off, published a cookbook, and had her products sold at Whole Foods—all before starting high school. The Tulsa, Oklahoma resident said her passion for food and cooking was sparked by the childhood obesity epidemic, and she hopes to inspire other kids to experiment with nutritious, tasty foods. Smith is also Sodexo’s student health and nutrition ambassador, participant in the Future Chefs program, and has given cooking demonstrations in front of Congress and the National School Board Association.

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