Fighting Food-Insecurity Through Youth-led, High-Capacity Hydroponic Farming

December 19, 2022
Students harvesting produce at a TFFJ farm

By Teens for Food Justice | Published on November 17, 2022

Food insecurity and lack of healthy food access resulting from limited financial resources are persistent, pervasive challenges in communities across the United States, ones that also correlate to significant and harmful public health inequities that largely skew across racial lines. The numbers are staggering: As of 2021, 10% of U.S. households are food-insecure, 33.8 million people live in food-insecure households, and 11.3% of the U.S. population suffers from diabetes. By and large, hunger, food insecurity, and a lack of nutrition education are driving factors of poor national health. 

Teens for Food Justice (TFFJ) operates high-capacity hydroponic farms on six school campuses across New York City and in Denver. Our farms are located in under-resourced, marginalized communities where residents experience multiple challenges that both fuel and are the result of food insecurity, including dramatic inequities in health outcomes. For example, a recent NY Health Foundation survey revealed that 65% of food-insecure New Yorkers buy cheaper food as a tradeoff to afford meals, and a staggering 21% of food-insecure New Yorkers reported delaying or skipping medical care. Earlier this year, journalism site Stacker used data from hunger-relief organization Feeding America to compile a list of New York counties with the most food-insecure children; Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx (where TFFJ has built farms) were among the top five, with Bronx county ranking first. 

An April 2021 study conducted by Hunger Free Colorado found that 1 in 3 Coloradans are food-insecure, 16% of the state’s children don’t receive adequate nutrition due to financial constraints, and 30% of adults reported having to skip or cut back on meals in order to make ends meet.

With six facilities currently serving 20 co-located schools across the country, TFFJ feeds 7,500 students each year with 45,000 pounds of free, healthy, student-grown produce. Teens for Food Justice (TFFJ) works tirelessly to ensure that communities directly impacted by food insecurity, like those we serve in New York City and Denver, seed generational change and chart a new path towards a sustainable, affordable, healthy food system. By harnessing the strength of high-capacity hydroponic farming and placing it within schools serving food-insecure communities, TFFJ returns power to those most impacted by food inequity.

Through our integrated STEM curricular day classes, after-school advocacy programming, and hands-on urban farming experience, we provide tangible, immediate, and far-reaching benefits that uniquely serve students, families, and communities at large. TFFJ is rapidly expanding, and by 2025 we anticipate students operating 15 farms serving 32 schools and feeding 13,000 students and their communities with 110,000 pounds of freshly grown produce annually.

But our impact reaches far beyond school walls: TFFJ students become 21st-century farmers growing large quantities of hydroponic produce inside their Title I schools, and are empowered to be educators, mentors, and advocates working to build a just, equitable, and sustainable food system for all. Each farm grows up to 10,000 pounds of produce annually, providing fresh produce daily for lunch in the schools’ cafeterias and distributed, free and affordably, within local communities experiencing food apartheid. Our curricular day programming engages students through a mix of farm activities like planting, transplanting, and harvesting. Educational activities further support student knowledge of STEM and health topics related to the farm.  TFFJ’s afterschool programming educates students about the health and nutritional value of the food they grow and provides leadership training in food policy, civics, and advocacy. The students then share this information at the local events they run, with their schools’ administration, and with their local elected officials, guiding their communities towards healthier, food-secure futures. This is crucial, not only to the success of our program, but to reshaping food systems more broadly.

TFFJ actively tackles the root causes of hunger and food insecurity across our farm sites each day. By fostering the next generation of urban farmers, we strive to return power back to students, their families, and their communities to create the food secure futures they deserve.  

You, too, can join the fight to end food insecurity once and for all.

Some ways to get involved:

  • Consider setting up a recurring donation! Funding supports our expansion to new sites, provides resources for our curricular and after-school programming, and empowers us to make maximum  impact on the lives of our students.
  • Spread the word! We all know someone who is struggling with food insecurity, whether they’re vocal about it or not. Follow us on social media to help educate others about diet-related health issues and the impact of hunger, food insecurity and malnourishment.
  • Show up and show out! If there is a Wellness or Advocacy Committee in your child’s school, consider joining it to let your voice be heard and to encourage leadership to require that fresh, healthy alternatives be provided for school meals.

Find the original article here in Giving Compass.

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