Meet Katherine Soll | Not for Profit Founder and CEO

July 19, 2023

We had the good fortune of connecting with Katherine Soll and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Katherine, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
The way this all began was when my children were in high school and middle school. They, like most NYC students, had community service as part of their graduation requirement, which was a great thing, but their schools did not provide a pipeline through which they could participate in meaningful service alongside other teens while learning about the social justice challenges and inequities that made community service necessary as well as the many agencies and organizations providing these services as a course of business. I was feeling pretty dismayed by this gap as was one of our organization’s co-founders, Chana Chenfeld, so we decided that if that pipeline didn’t exist, we would build it ourselves. What we found was that students, their parents, and their schools were extremely interested in our model and, before we knew it, we were running a program for hundreds of teens in partnership with multiple not for profits across NYC. We then established the not for profit, Students for Service, which we then developed into Teens for Food Justice as it exists today.

What should our readers know about your business?
TFFJ provides a uniquely comprehensive approach to impacting food equity by using schools as hubs of a multi-pronged, youth-led, community-focused approach to social change.

Our curricular day program uses standards-aligned lessons that are integrated into a variety of STEM classes and co-taught by a TFFJ Farmer-Educator and one of the school’s licensed teachers.

Our afterschool Apprenticeship program offers students from all schools on campus the opportunity to become health and nutrition ambassadors and food justice advocates using social entrepreneurship as their tool.

Our distribution channels provide multiple avenues for each school and the campus’ surrounding community to enjoy and learn more about healthy, affordable food.

We are the only organization providing this multilayered and unique approach to STEM, health/nutrition, food justice education, and youth development in schools at a scale that can actually also feed entire school populations and communities at large. Most youth-focused food equity/access programs utilize only one or two of these components: TFFJ is unique in its TFFJ’s breadth and depth of school-based integration and community impact.

Through the experience of growing food for themselves and their neighbors, their lunches, their classes, their afterschool time, and their work opportunities, students learn how nutritious food grows, how it impacts their bodies, and how to turn this knowledge into healthier futures for themselves and their communities.

Our outcomes speak to the success of our work:
• 100% of students surveyed understand how nutritious food makes a positive difference in their health
• 50% of participating students feel more confident in science
• 95% of participating students see themselves as more of a leader who can advocate for food justice
• 86% of students surveyed feel the farm increases their understanding of environmental sustainability
• 81% of students feel they have the motivation and knowledge to eat healthier foods
• 76% of students go home and share what they have learned with friends and family

In just 10 years since its founding in 2013, TFFJ has grown into an organization serving 7,500 students through six farms in two states across 19 schools. With six additional farms in our pipeline and more in development, we are poised for exponential growth in our operation, pounds of produce grown for communities, and student impact by 2030. This rapid growth has not lacked significant challenges, specifically, helping our school partners identify the resources needed to support the construction and maintenance of a commercial-scale vertical farm within their buildings. That we have been able to accomplish this in two major cities and school systems — New York City and Denver — is a source of tremendous pride for our highly-motivated, passionate, and mission-driven team. I believe that our fidelity to our mission, while being flexible and open to the needs of our partners and conditions on the ground, has been key to this rapid expansion and our successful outcomes.

What makes me most proud and excited is seeing how Teens for Food Justice is experienced by our students. The impact of learning and growing healthy food in the farm is so immediate and visceral for them and they are not shy about expressing their passion and excitement. When I hear comments like these from our students, I know that what we are doing is working:

“Seeing how even one hydroponic farm has drastically changed the lives of both my peers and my wider community, I know that making urban agriculture systems an integral part of our city will make all the difference for those who live in it.”

“The nutrition education we are receiving will help people to understand the meaning of greens and healthy food, and why it’s better. If we eat healthier and stop eating all his junk food, we will live a longer life, and I’m sure that everyone in this world would like a longer life.”

Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Our program is based in New York City, not a Colorado city, so I can’t give a comprehensive response for Denver, which I have only visited a few times. However, I would be happy to share recommendations for NYC if you would like. Please let me know.

Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I want to dedicate my Shoutout to my Co-Founder, Partner and TFFJ Board Chair, Tara Smith Swibel, whose belief, investment, and faith in me and our shared vision and the mission and work of this organization has made our rapid and effective growth possible. She is also a Denver native with strong and extensive ties to the city, which made its selection as our first expansion city, thanks to its establishment of the Healthy Food for Denver Kids fund, particularly exciting and resonant.


Instagram: teensforfoodjustice






Image Credits
Jessica DiMento

Find the original article here in Shoutout Colorado.

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