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'From NYC to Nairobi: The impact on sustainable agriculture and workforce development'

“We offer workforce development opportunities in sustainable agriculture, as well as integrating technologies into farms to make them more scalable, accessible, and climate-resilient,” says Samia Lemfadli, CEO and Founder of Change Food for Good, a non-profit organization based in New York City.

Change Food for Good works with schools, community gardens, and non-profit organizations to provide educational workshops and programs with the goal of increasing access to agricultural technology and developing embedded food relief systems using hydroponic farming. The organization goes one step further by providing job training and workforce development to those interested in a career in agtech through paid internships and job placements, with more than 500 participants to date across all their programs and more than 125 job placements secured.

Samia Lemfadli

Finally, Change Food for Good assists farmers with the design, implementation, and maintenance of their food systems through consultation and additional resources. Their efforts to develop sustainable food infrastructure now support their direct food relief services which have provided 6715 lbs of free food to NYC residents over the last year.

From workshops to paid internships
The idea is if you can integrate the technologies into the farm systems, make them more scalable, more accessible, more climate resilient and you can build up the workforce for these employment pathways of agriculture, technology, or construction, that’s a solid model. Therefore, they started small with workshops out of a shipping container farm in Brooklyn and then, paid internships and just evolved over the years into a full workforce pipeline.

The Intro to AgTech job trainees receive 10 weeks of free training, with 150 hours of designing and building farm systems for food relief, documenting them on their case study portfolio websites that are taught to them how to build which they can then use for their job search.

One of the workshops conducted earlier this year

"From there, they are eligible for our paid internship program which we use to partner with local food system providers in New York City - whether it’s agriculture-related work or tech-focused work like developing their websites. This way, we can create a collaborative approach that increases the capacity for local farm systems while providing employment for our alumni that they can translate into a career. We operate primarily in New York City and aim to serve 1500 participants through our training programs, secure 250 job placements, and build out 100 farm systems by 2025. We are halfway there for the job placements milestone and have more than 80 systems already built,” says Samia.

Change Food for Good’s internships covers the cost of the first three months of employment which participants can then leverage to gain permanent employment. Participants have gone on to work for Upward Farms, Oko Farms, Smallhold, Mi Oh My Farms and even completed client web design projects, like Brooklyn Supported Agriculture’s website relaunch.

The Nairobi farm

Global reach; project in Kenya
Although Change Food for Good works mainly in New York City, the organization has ties to Kenya and recently completed its first international farm build in Nairobi. In 2018, the organization’s Founder participated in an apprenticeship abroad where she was immersed in the culture and saw firsthand the impacts of climate-caused drought on the farmlands and thus the country’s challenges with food security.

After many conversations with Jane Muthoni, a farmer who also participated in the apprenticeship with her, and Steve Kasoa, the apprenticeship’s Program Manager, she set a goal to build a hydroponic farm for a school in Nairobi that would employ Jane and Steve who shared her passion for developing more sustainable food systems in response to the climate-caused drought Kenya has experienced. With the on-the-ground support of Jane & Steve, Change Food for Good was able to work with Vertical Gardens Ltd. to develop the drip-irrigation tower greenhouse farm with 1300 plant sites for the students and staff at Kwa Njenga Primary School in Nairobi.

Photo 1: Transplanting day. Photo 2: Flourishing crops

In September of this year, the farm system was officially unveiled and it is now providing supplemental nutrition and training in hydroponic farm development and maintenance to the school’s 2400 students. In an effort to maximize the farm’s impact and minimize any resource strain for the school and local community, Change Food for Good equipped the farm with a solar panel to power the system and a rainwater collection system that would provide a water source for the farm and emergency water access for the school.

The farm system, which has the potential to provide 13,000 heads of spinach, kale, and sukuma wiki annually, was named “Pole Pole” - a nod to the experience the Founder, Sam, Jane, and Steve shared in their apprenticeship experience that concluded with a climb up Mount Kilimanjaro. The guides that supported the climb would shout “Pole Pole” throughout the climb as a reminder to go slowly if you want to reach the top, a principle that was heavily practiced in the process of launching this farm site.

Installation of a microgreens system

“We did surveys prior to the build to design the right systems and determine the crops they would want. We were very intentional about what we’re growing and why - which is to grow nutrient-dense, culturally relevant food to supplement the school lunch program in Kenya, which mostly consists of maize and beans. We fundraised to have a budget to support the farm with ongoing costs and are currently fundraising to sustain the farm and its staff long-term and build out new systems at the school to grow tomatoes,” says Samia.

Anyone interested in local food solutions, employing their job training alumni, or getting involved with Change Food for Good’s mission is encouraged to reach out and connect with the organization.

Another training of Agtech construction skills

For any folks who are passionate about food security and equity within climate-resilient food system solutions, Samia encourages them to get in touch with them.

"We just want to keep building out this food relief infrastructure in environments that typically don’t have it. What I want to see happen is that our students get enough of the skills, tools, network, and real-world experience that they say ‘Whatever it is that I want to do to change this food system, I can do it. I have everything I need at my disposal and whatever I don’t have, I can figure out.’ I hope that the technology can help to do that, but at the very least, it serves as an example that if you set out to create a solution that is accessible and embedded into your community, you can do that and I think that’s powerful enough for our students, ” Samia notes.

For more information:
Change Food for Good
Samia Lemfadli, Founder and CEO
[email protected]