Amidst all the hard-to-read food news these days, there is one obvious silver lining: Young people everywhere are on fire with a desire to change the system. We’ve reported on the growing number of colleges and universities with degree programs and special food and agriculture-related courses popping up in recent years. Now, there’s a wave of young professionals pushing the food envelope.
Today, the University of California announced the recipients of its first Global Food Initiative 30 Under 30 Awards. According to U.C., these are “young pioneers and innovators trailblazing to solve the global food crisis by making extraordinary contributions in a wide array of food-related fields.”
U.C. President Janet Napolitano, who launched the Global Food Initiative, and hopes to engage the entire 10-campus, nearly 250,000-student university system in a wider effort to “help put the world on a path to sustainably and nutritiously feeding itself,” launched the awards.
“Today we honor 30 young people who have devoted their lives to addressing some of the most important topics of our day,” Napolitano said in a statement. “Food is at the heart of issues related to sustainability, climate security, and healthy communities.”
The winners are:
Aviva Paley, 24—A social entrepreneur with professional experience in marrying a social mission with proven business strategies, Paley and her co-founder launched Kitchens for Good under the belief that kitchens can be social and economic engines for good in communities. In just one year, Paley has grown the organization from two to 37 employees, operating a $1.5 million social enterprise catering company.
Brianna McGuire, 26—McGuire is the co-founder and CEO of Foodfully, a small business building software to eliminate household food waste. The Foodfully app syncs with store loyalty cards and scans receipts to track food purchases, sending users reminders when their food is most likely to go bad, and providing recipes for soon-to-spoil items.
Caroline Cahill, 24—As a member of Feeding America Child Hunger Corps, Cahill has worked to complete community needs assessment programs in Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi, establishing goals and securing funding for new child hunger and multi-dimensional community health programs for the rural South.
Chris Massa, 27—Massa began teaching children about food and agriculture in 2013 as a FoodCorps service member in Ventura County, California. He now works as a farm-to-school operations specialist, helping local farmers sell their products to school districts.
Claire Cummings, 26—Cummings is a student activist turned garbage guru who now serves as the first-ever waste programs manager for Bon Appétit Management Company Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the food service company.
Edward Silva, 26—Silva is executive director of Thought For Food and co-founder of Henlight, a solar-powered solution to help small-scale poultry farmers. His current work focuses on developing tools to allow the global community to engage effectively with an ever-changing food and agriculture industry.
Elaine Lander, 28—Lander is a program officer with the Food Literacy Center in Sacramento, helping improve children’s knowledge about healthy and nutritious food. She now oversees hands-on food education for 800 students weekly and works with community partners to reach an additional 20,000 kids with more than 300 programs per year.
Elhadj Diallo, 29—Diallo is a program director with Dare to Innovate, a program that provides training and funding for aspiring agricultural entrepreneurs in Guinea. Having overseen the disbursement of funding to seven agribusinesses throughout the country, Diallo is in the process of launching an annual agropreneur incubator program.
Emilie Aguirre, 29—As a research and policy fellow at the Resnick Program for Food Law and Policy at UCLA Law, Aguirre researches and advances solutions for the food system, teaches food law, and has helped launch a free legal intake and referral service for nonprofits and small businesses working toward healthy food access and sustainable production.
Esther Park, 27—Park is one of the co-creators of the Los Angeles Food Policy Council’s Healthy Neighborhood Market Network, a groundbreaking initiative to build the leadership and business acumen of immigrant business owners in low-income communities to help them bring fresher, more nutritious food to their customers.
Fortino Morales III, 28—After having founded U.C. Riverside’s community garden as an undergraduate, Morales established the garden’s first student-run course, the Urban Garden Seminar, and ushered through a student referendum to fund sustainability engagement. Upon graduation, he returned to U.C. Riverside as its first garden manageroverseeing the 3-acre sustainable community garden.
Joe Viana, 28—Viana worked with researchers and nutritionists to implement an evidence-based trial of over 30 healthier vending machines at UCLA, designed to increase sales of healthier items without compromising revenue. Viana’s work has triggered a review of UC-wide policies around vending, and spurred discussion at the national level with Partnership for a Healthier America, which works with the private sector and Michelle Obama.
Judith Rowland, 26—As U.S. policy and advocacy manager for the Global Poverty Project, Rowland works to amplify the voices of millions of global citizens calling on elected officials to pass policies improving global food security and access for the world’s poor.
Kate Polakiewicz, 29—Polakiewicz is an agricultural scientist specializing in sustainable production and extension services for small-scale producers in the developing world, with a background in fair trade certification and supply chain labor practices. Polakiewicz also helps develop coffee education at U.C. Davis and will travel to Honduras this year to work with Catholic Relief Services’ Blue Harvest program as part of a UC-USAID fellowship.
Katie Stagliano, 17—In 2008, 9-year-old Katie Stagliano planted a single cabbage in her South Carolina front yard as part of a school project. It grew to be 40 pounds, and fed 275 people in a local soup kitchen. Today, Katie’s Krops consists of 83 gardens across the country, all maintained by local children of the community.
Kelly Dumke, 29—Dumke is the assistant project director for Choose Health LA Kids, one of the nation’s largest investments aimed at preventing early childhood obesity among nearly 1 million children in Los Angeles County. She also leads an interdepartmental task force between the Department of Public Health and Department of Children and Family Services to develop mechanisms for addressing high rates of obesity within the child welfare system.
Komal Ahmad, 26—Ahmad is the founder and CEO of Copia, a website and mobile app that connects businesses with excess food inventory to communities in need. Copia has fed more than 660,000 people and recovered more than 800,000 pounds of food, enough to feed the entire country of Luxembourg.
Laura Moreno, 29—As a Ph.D. student in the Energy and Resources Group at U.C. Berkeley and project manager for a food waste measurement program for the Natural Resources Defense Council in Nashville, Tennessee, Moreno has focused her work on research and action in food waste tracking, prevention, and disposal.
Lauren Ponisio, 27—As a native of California’s Central Valley, Ponisio has a personal connection to issues concerning the sustainability of agriculture. Her primary research interest is to make agricultural systems better for humans and wildlife. Ponisio investigates strategies for designing agricultural systems to promote biodiversity conservation, and the links between conservation strategies and improving livelihoods.
Lisa Curtis, 28—Curtis is the founder and CEO of Kuli Kuli, a line of nutritious food products made from moringa, a superfood sourced from women-owned farming cooperatives in Ghana and Haiti. Kuli Kuli’s products are carried by more than 800 retailers across the country.
Louise Bruce, 29—Since converting a vacant Brooklyn lot into a thriving “compost-first” garden, Bruce has been engaged in community-based composting. As the NYC Organics senior program manager, Bruce oversees the expansion of the city’s organic waste management programs to provide all New Yorkers with curbside collection and convenient local drop-off locations where they can recycle their food waste.
Matthew Meisner, 26—Meisner is a co-founder and the head of data science of Farmers Business Network, a rapidly growing venture-backed startup with the mission of harnessing farm data for the benefit of farmers. Data is the next frontier in agricultural productivity and Meisner is at the forefront of innovating to create this future.
Matthew Spinelli, 30—Spinelli is studying the impact of food insecurity on HIV treatment outcomes in women living with HIV. This research could pave the way for interventions to address food insecurity for women living with HIV such as a comprehensive meal programs linked to HIV care and behavioral health treatment.
Nandeet Mehta, 22—Mehta is the founder and CEO of Pyur Solutions, a company that develops nontoxic, biodegradable, plant-based pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides for agriculture. This past fall, Mehta co-founded SNAC, a student nutrition advocacy group.
Rachel Sumekh, 24—Sumekh co-founded Swipe Out Hunger as a UCLA student and is now executive director of the organization, which allows college students to donate excess dollars on their meal plan to fellow students in need. The organization, which began as a college pet project, has chapters on four U.C. campuses with plans to expand to all nine U.C. undergraduate campuses. It has served 1.2 million meals across the country.
Ruben Canedo, 27—Canedo has established himself as a national expert on student food insecurity and college campus programs and policies to address the problem. In his role as research and mobilization coordinator at U.C. Berkeley’s Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence and as co-chair of the GFI Food Access and Security Subcommittee, Canedo is engaged in actively researching and addressing college student food access and security.
Samuel Rigu, 27—Rigu is the co-founder and CEO of Safi Organics, a for-profit company in Kenya that produces and sells a carbon negative, organic fertilizer (Safi Sarvi) that helps rural farmers increase their farm yields by up to 30 percent and income by up to 50 percent.
Sophie Egan, 29—Egan is the director of programs and culinary nutrition for strategic initiatives at the Culinary Institute of America, where she works to help the food service industry make its menus healthier and more sustainable. She also contributes to the New York Times‘ Well blog and has just written her first book: Devoured: From Chicken Wings to Kale Smoothies – How What We Eat Defines Who We Are.
Tim Williams, 27—Williams currently acts as program manager for Working Landscapes, a rural economic development nonprofit based in Warren County, North Carolina. His work focuses on building farm-to-table supply chains, primarily focusing on an effort called the Chopped Produce Initiative.
Tyler Youngblood, 29—Tyler Youngblood is the co-founder of Azahar, a Colombia-based coffee company committed to reimagining and redefining the way coffee is grown, processed, and distributed globally. Today, Azahar and its 20 full-time employees purchase more than 400 tons of coffee per year from more than 500 producers, boosting their incomes by 50-70 percent while providing technical assistance to continue improving their farms’ operations.