Innovations in agriculture don’t just come from veteran environmentalists or food industry heavyweights. In fact, youth around the world are creating inspiring projects and products that are changing how we grow, prepare, and eat food.
Nikhil Arora and Alex Velez, graduates of the University of California, Berkeley, turned away from the world of consulting and investment banking to pursue mushroom cultivation. After successfully growing oyster mushrooms using coffee grounds and cardboard boxes, they launched Back to the Roots, which delivers sustainable growing kits to your front door. They sell 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 has a sweet tooth, but he found himself butting heads with his parents who didn’t want him filling up on processed candy. Unwilling to give up peanut butter cups and chocolate bars, Bronner, then 13, worked with his father to found Unreal Foods, which produces preservative-free candies made with grass-fed dairy and fair trade cocoa. The products have made their way from the Bronners’ home outside Boston, Massachusetts to Target, Kroger, and Wegmans stores across the country.
Tyson Gersh 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 teaching the community sustainable farming skills. MUFI engages 2,500 volunteers and grew more than 10,000 pounds of produce this year alone. “We hope to use agriculture as a platform to promote education, sustainability, and community in urban communities, while simultaneously reducing socioeconomic disparity,” Gersh writes.
Eve and Liam Knight are better known as the Spice Kidz. When the duo moved from Ireland to Pensacola, Florida, they were disappointed to find that their local grocers didn’t sell 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, and 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 is founder and owner of Eat What’s Good, a vendor of vegan, gluten-free packaged and prepared foods. The company also provides consulting services, meal planning, catering, and menu development. Meko, an Ontario resident and culinary student, hopes to get people excited about organic, healthy food. “It’s where healthy meets delicious, and [moves people] 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 and a yoga studio, and she hopes to expand her range of vendors.
Benedict Mundele founded Surprise Tropicale, a takeaway and catering business, to deliver fresh local meals to her community. The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) resident began by giving free breakfasts to members of the Kuvuna Foundation, an organization dedicated to sustainable development, leadership development, and support for entrepreneurs. Mundele said that although her country has plenty of fresh food, it is often exported, processed, and imported again at a higher price. She wants to amke the DRC’s fresh food available to local and hopes to sell her food in local supermarkets. Mundele is a World Economic Forum(WEF) Global Shaper and will attend the WEF on Africa in Nigeria this year.
Ben Simon is executive director and a founding member of the Food Recovery Network (FRN), a network of college chapters whose mission is simple: to direct surplus food from college campuses to hungry Americans, instead of to landfills. The program began at the University of Maryland, Simon’s alma mater in 2011; three years later, the organization boasts more than 95 chapters across 26 U.S. 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 has launched two online cooking shows, published a cookbook, and sold her products 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 Sodexo’s student health and nutrition ambassador and a participant in the Future Chefs program; she has also given cooking demonstrations for Congress and the National School Board Association.
Sophia Vartanian is a young farmer who is cultivating youth gardening in Vancouver, British Columbia. Vartanian discovered her passion for farming as a volunteer at the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Sustainable Food Systems Farm, where she was inspired to transform her high school lawn into an urban farm. She has presented at TEDx Kids and is a member of the Young Agrarians network. She writes, “[Through farming,] I’ve discovered a whole new life of unquenchable passion and curiosity.”
Jason Aramburu is the founder of re:Char, an organization working in Western Kenya to promote the use of biochar among small-scale farmers. Formed using crop and animal waste, biochar can enhance soil fertility, sequester carbon, and eliminate the need for expensive fertilizers—all while minimizing food waste. While working as a biochar researcher at Princeton’s Carbon Mitigation Initiative and the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, Aramburu formulated his plan to use biochar to increase food production in developing regions. Aramburu and his organization aim to find easy and affordable ways for subsistence farmers to produce biochar so they may improve their own crop yields and sell additional biochar to supplement their incomes.
Angela Morelli has used her unique vision as an information designer to produce captivating, interactive infographics depicting agricultural and environmental trends. She is best known for her outstanding work on virtual water. Morelli believes that the way we communicate information affects its dissemination, so she strives to create visually stunning infographics that will captivate and intrigue viewers. Named a Young Global Leader in 2012 by the WEF, Morelli uses her design skills to advocate for her belief that “sensible food consumption and sustainable trade focused on preserving natural resources should become two of the commandments for our 21st century society.”
Makame Mahmud, Rahsin Jamil and Al-Jamee Jawad Khan won the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition’s 2013 Young Earth Solutions contest with their innovative VALUE+ proposal. According to the team, VALUE+ is an integrated food network that will “ensure food security for the people living at the bottom of the [socioeconomic] pyramid.” Taking their native city of Dhaka, Bangladesh as a model, the teens have proposed integrated strategies to lower food prices, reduce food waste, and improve nutrition for the estimated 200 million urban slum dwellers across the globe.
Birke Baehr was examining the label of his soda when a strange ingredient caught his eye: high fructose corn syrup. He soon discovered that high fructose corn syrup is an artificial sweetener used to cheaply flavor sodas and snacks, and that it is responsible for multiple adverse health effects. He learned that this ingredient is one of many used by U.S. food manufacturers to cut costs at the expense of consumers’ health. He was so moved that 11 year old Baehr appeared at TEDx Next Generation in Asheville, North Carolina to share “What’s Wrong with our Food System?”. His speech has since been viewed more than two million times. He has gone on to appear in documentaries, participate in rallies for organic food, and publish a children’s book, Birke on the Farm: One Boy’s Quest for Real Food.
Alexandra Iljadica is a nutritional scientist and co-founder of Australia’s Youth Food Movement (YFM). Iljadica founded YFM in 2011 after volunteering with the Sydney Food Fairness Alliance, where she learned how global food issues, trade laws, and food justice impact nutritional access across Australia. YFM works to increase youth food literacy by fostering conversations about food production and encouraging youths to organize around food policy issues.
Ask Rasmussen grew up on Kiselgården, the oldest biodynamic farm in Denmark. Determined to forge his future in farming, Rasmussen is learning biodynamic farming methods so that he may promote and maintain Kiselgården’s economic viability for years to come. Through partnerships with 25 Michelin Star restaurants and a thriving vegetable box program, Rasmussen is able to sell high quality specialty vegetables while maintaining stewardship of his family’s land.
Janaina Stronzake is a teacher and youth leader for Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST). When she was a child, Stronzake’s family was driven into urban poverty after losing their land title. MST came to their aid, eventually helping them secure new land where they could farm and live. “The experience of hunger has had a permanent and profound impact on me,” she explains. With the support of MST, Stronzake went on to attend university and was an instructor at the MST’s Florestan Fernandes National School. There, she taught students about agroecology, nutrition, community organizing, and political theory. Stronzake continues to advocate for land rights as she pursues her master’s degree in Spain.