Despite the undisputed benefits of a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, nearly 43 percent of people in the world cannot afford healthy diets. They may have difficulty accessing healthy food due to the high cost of imported goods, and harsh conditions make it harder to cultivate produce in their region. For some, this means resorting to accessible but low-quality food that may be depleted of nutrients because of processing and that pose health risks due to pesticide use.
Ready to address this interconnected web of barriers to healthy, affordable food is three-time Enactus National Champion team from the Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration (RANEPA), Vladimir Affiliate.
“Our team realized that we absolutely do not know the composition of vegetables and herbs that we buy in stores,” says Milana Sivyakova, Enactus team member for RANEPA, Vladimir Affiliate. “After conducting a survey, we found that regions with harsh climatic conditions do not have the opportunity to eat eco vegetables and herbs, as prices for products are high. Cheap imported products are becoming the only way to eat vegetables, but unfortunately not the best.”
Following their passion, the team of 10 students set out to find the most productive and environmentally friendly farming solutions available today. The key, it seemed, was urban farming on hydroponic systems. This approach, which grows plants in a nutrient solution rather than in soil, therefore producing high crop yield with minimal natural resources, sparked the creation of this Enactus National Champion team’s urban farming lab project, Foodwell.
Focused on addressing hunger and self-sufficiency in regions of Russia and partner countries with harsh environmental conditions, the team creates an ecosystem of urban farms by training local communities to grow organic greens.
The main goal of Foodwell is to empower others through readily accessible, affordable, high-quality food. Using grant money from the Federal Agency for Youth Affairs, the team piloted the first social city farm in Vladimir, Russia, using easy-to-construct hydroponic systems for growing vegetables and herbs in urban environments.
Through Foodwell, team members grow an array of plants and microgreens — the latter of which contain a high amount of vitamins and minerals (up to seven times higher than in full-grown plants) – reducing the cost of production by 30 percent by using energy-saving equipment, partnering with an ad agency to market their project and cutting out reseller fees with a direct sales approach.
Although the team is not lacking in passion, Sivyakova says they faced a significant learning curve. “Our team members have no education in the field of agriculture, so it was difficult for us to find solutions to emerging problems with plants,” she explains.
To overcome these challenges, the Enactus Russian National Champions partnered with organizations in the agricultural production and hospitality fields to increase their yields and their knowledge.
A pilot project, Sivyakova says Foodwell has given these university students a road map for how to extend their program to regions experiencing high levels of soil pollution, land degradation and severe climatic conditions. “We hope to create an international city farming school to distribute video tutorials and workshops where everyone can learn agricultural skills,” she says.
Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Vladimir Affiliate, will represent Russia at the Enactus World Cup starting 14 October, where the team will present their project alongside 32 other Enactus National Champions. There, they will demonstrate their innovation in business and its impact on the world as they vie for their chance to become the Enactus World Champion for the fourth time in history.
Learn more and register to attend Enactus World Cup at enactus.org/worldcup.