On 5 April, 2022 an exciting initiative came to fruition with the first harvest from a hydroponic system installed three weeks earlier in the south Tel Aviv food pantry established by The Tel Aviv Foundation, Mesila, Lesova and the Tel Aviv Yafo Municipality. Enabling the food pantry to directly produce fresh, healthy and nutritious food year-round, this hydroponic system is set to make a genuine difference to the lives and health of asylum seekers and other undocumented communities in Tel Aviv.
This initiative was funded and spearheaded by Growing Peace Inc., a non-profit founded by Steven Hoffen, a 14-year-old award-winning documentarian. It has been our privilege to partner with Growing Peace Inc. on this project and, on the day of the first harvest, we sat down with Steven to discuss his inspiring journey, what drives him and what comes next.
The encounter that started a journey
The first striking thing about Steven is his enthusiasm: it’s contagious and particularly apparent when he is speaking about the trip that changed everything.
On a visit to Israel, Steven spent a day visiting Sindyanna of Galilee: a female-led Israeli non-profit where Arab and Jewish women work together to grow produce in hydroponic gardens. The benefits of this initiative extend well beyond food production: these activities directly build bridges between Jewish and Muslim women, and the funds generated from selling this produce are channelled back into educational activities. “Meeting both Jewish and Muslim staff, even my tour of Sindiyanna felt like a mini example of their work to create cooperation between the Jewish and Arab communities in Israel”, he explains.
While other 12-year-olds (his age at the time) would have left it at that: Steven wanted to know more and do more. He conducted a series of interviews which became the foundation for his award-winning documentary Growing Peace in the Middle East. The success of his documentary eventually led to the creation of Growing Peace Inc.: a non-profit organization working to grow the humanitarian impact of his film and promoting hydroponics as a medium to educate, empower and help those in need.
Food and beyond
It’s clear that what drives Steven isn’t merely food security - it’s all the benefits that can be secured by introducing hydroponic systems in community settings. When we ask what inspires him most in the project in the Tel Aviv food pantry he explains that “it’s about a sense of dignity. It’s important that the clients of the food pantry can pick their own, fresh food. They’ve gone through a lot.”
It’s also about education. When asked about an encounter that stands out for him, harnessing hydroponics for educational purposes seems to top the list. “I met some people who work at the food pantry and they mentioned a lot of their plans for the hydroponics system - how they’re going to teach clients of the food pantry how to use the system. That really got me excited.”
Unsurprisingly then, schools may be next on the agenda. “We’re going to continue to work on [the food pantry project in Tel Aviv] but I’ve also visited New York Sun Works who have a lot of different locations, including in public schools where they teach the students about lots of different hydroponic and aquaponic systems. I’m hoping to be able to do something there.”
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