Sophie Bernstein, 18, of St. Louis, Mo., a senior at Clayton High School, planted more than 35 organic vegetable gardens at preschools and daycare centers in low-income areas, and has conducted 175 workshops on plant science, cooking and nutrition to help financially struggling families make healthy food choices. Six years ago, Sophie built her own vegetable garden and donated the harvest to area food banks. “I was surprised by the drastic shortage of fresh produce available to families in need,” she said. “Many of the food banks’ shelves were stocked with cookies, chips, and even soda.” After the 2014 shooting of a young man in nearby Ferguson and the riots it sparked, Sophie wanted to do something “to promote health, and environmental and social justice” in the greater St. Louis area.
She began by reaching out to preschools and daycare centers in low-income communities. Upon receiving an enthusiastic response, she contacted hardware stores for building supplies and seedlings, gardening groups for advice, and high schools for volunteers. She also solicited donations from local gardening clubs and applied for grants to finance her raised gardens. Early on, Sophie realized it wasn’t enough to just grow food, since many recipients were not familiar with cooking fresh produce. So, she began offering cooking and nutrition classes for families, as well as botany and environmental workshops for children. Since she began, Sophie’s gardens have supplied more than 35,000 pounds of fresh produce for people in need in her community.