Returning to Our Roots: Farming for Our Collective Future

Teaching the next generation of young Berkshirites about food tech, urban farming, sustainable practices, and their role in our future.

Photo of Joe Grochmal
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  • Environment

Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

3/12/1997 11/8/1996

Help us stay in touch!

Phone Number: (413) 854-8540 Massachusetts: Housatonic (01236)

Website or social media url(s) (optional):

N/A at this time.

Date You Started Your Project Started


Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Idea (hoping to get started in the future)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

A major challenge facing future generations is food security. Driven by climate change and population growth, food supply challenges must be addressed. Beyond being simply a nutritional problem, food insecurity can lead to social unrest, magnified by economic inequality. To ensure adequate nutrition, and opportunity for all people, we must encourage agricultural ideas that result in maximum yields at minimal environmental effect.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

To address the aforementioned problem, our team strives to create a robust educational program for youth and members of the local community as a whole.  Each educational session will meet once per week on weekdays with each session lasting for two hours each. These will be broken up into two sections “Planting” and “Growing”.  The “Planting” section will last 45 minutes and will focus on a specific topic pertaining to agriculture, food tech, biology, technology, or policy, which will be presented to participants by academic and subject matter experts in person or via Skype.  These sessions will be framed with informative readings meant to help frame the conversation and ensure that all participants, have access to the same information baseline. The “Growing” section, will focus on taking what is discussed in class and applying it in practice during the final 75 minutes of the session.  Participants may be asked to carry out an experiment, work on a thought exercise, or even plant and grow crops (obviously this would be a longer-term effort). There would be longer, open grow sessions on weekends for participants. Each “project season” will last approximately 3 months.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

As a young man, Joe ran a garden stand with two neighbors called “Three Veggie Kids”, which would go on to satisfy the trio’s North Plain Road neighbors’ desire for fresh carrots, cucumbers, tomatoes, and, of course, raspberries for three summers. He would later reconnect to his “roots” in the basement of Robinson Hall at Harvard during his senior year.  Here, in a class called American Food, a Global History: More Than Just a Meal, Joe found himself enthralled by the history of food, and perhaps even more so by its significance in our collective futures, successes, and survival.  After graduating, he returned to his hometown in Great Barrington to serve as a Lead For America Hometown Fellow, helping local government as it seeks to build a vibrant community in the 21st century and beyond through technology and innovation. He has recognized the importance of agriculture in this future.

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

Video explaining why this project is so important!

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

An interested party would sign up for the program at either the local high school (Monument Mountain) or at other communal organizations in the area.  Once they have signed up, they will join a cohort of other young people, who are interested in being a part of a new initiative. Members of the cohort will participate in two-hour sessions where they would meet at the local youth center.  For the first 45-minutes of the event, participants would listen to a talk by an urban ag expert and would have the opportunity to ask them questions using the previously assigned reading as a starting point. For the last hour and fifteen minutes, participants would participate in hand-on growing activities based on the subject of the discussion.  Beyond these discussions and growing activities, participants would be allowed to free grow in a personal plot.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

There are no projects focusing on Urban Agriculture in my county, and while there are farming programs, these focus exclusively on traditional agricultural methods. Our proposed program invites interdisciplinary experts to engage with participants, exploring creative ways to look at food security, sustainability, and policy. Traditional programs focus exclusively on agriculture. By engaging with experts, participants will be able access information and perspectives that other groups do not provide, allowing members to be on the forefront of the sustainable urban agricultural field. 

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

While my plan is still in its early stages, I will know that I am making an impact when I see both high participation rates, high levels of engagement during programming, and when there is a positive buzz in the community [which can truly become palpable in a small community..]. Additionally, I would know that we are making a positive impact when we have multiple successful cohort pass through. In the long-run, I would judge our degree of success based on feedback and updates that we receive and hear from alumni, hopefully with them telling us how our program changed their outlook on agriculture, food security, sustainability, or life.

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

In the present, I am establishing partnerships with local school districts and youth centers. One district has already signed on and I am confident that we can build on this by leveraging the district’s network and those of people who support our mission in the community. We are also very interested in promoting our initiative in the press and making members of the community aware of our work and mission. We hope to do this through a robust social media outreach campaign on Twitter, Instagram, and You Tube.

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Project Plan & Strategy

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations less than $100

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French) (6)
  • Hispanic, Latino/a, or Spanish origin (for example: Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuba, Salvadoran, Dominican, Colombian) (7)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Low-income community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others

Referral: If you discovered the Challenge thanks to an organization or person other than Ashoka or T-Mobile, who was it?

I heard about the challenge thanks to Lead for America, a fellowship that I participate in.

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 33.3%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 33.3%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 66.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 33.3%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 0%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 33.3%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 100%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 33.3%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%

1 comment

Join the conversation:

Photo of LetHerLearn Frisco

This idea is very inspiring! Urban agriculture is so important, and the steps you have taken so far are great! Keep up the good work!