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  • Cornell Cooperative Extension
  • Agriculture
  • Food

On November 14 and 15, 10 innovative start-up businesses from across New York state pitched their agri-business ideas in front of a panel of entrepreneurial, agricultural and extension experts at the Holiday Inn in Binghamton for a chance to win funding to support critical business expansion. The twist? These entrepreneurs were all middle and high school students.

“This Grow-NY Youth Competition brings together partners from Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), New York State 4-H, FFA, and New York State Agriculture in the Classroom and industry leaders to provide opportunities for all youth to be engaged in entrepreneurial experiences,” said Victoria Giarratano, CCE’s assistant director for Food Systems and Innovation. “The youth stage is where inspiration and innovation meet. Experiences like this help to inspire young people to engage in food systems which ultimately helps to build a workforce pipeline to create a new generation of industry leaders.”

Grow-NY is an agriculture and food business competition that attracts innovative startups from all over the world to pitch their ideas for a chance to win $1 million. Prior to the competition, youth attended workshops with Rob Salamida from Salamida's Spiedies and Jonah Gershon, a Cornell University student and the creator of "Spekld," a form of brown butter, who was featured on the Food Network. Youth observed the Grow-NY mainstage pitches and had the opportunity to network with industry professionals. In 2023, youth competed for a total of $10,000, with $3,000 going to first place. The prize money was made possible by Taste New York, a New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets program with strong CCE connections.

Arjun Bindra, from Nassau County, won first prize for his initiative, Evergreen: Turning Trash to Treasure. Bindra’s idea uses algae-modified anaerobic digestion to transform organic waste into biogas. “My agriscience class encouraged me to apply to this competition,” he said. “I thought it would be a great opportunity to network in the ag industry. I realized farmers, especially in New York, have been feeding me my entire life and I thought I could try to help them create more resiliency.”

Judging this year’s competition were Damali Wynter, assistant commissioner of New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets, Rob Salamida, CEO of Salamida Spiedies, Ella Underberg, president of New York FFA, and Andy Turner, incoming director of Cornell Cooperative Extension and outgoing Director of New York State 4-H.

“The Grow-NY Youth Competition creates a pathway for youth from all over New York to expand their knowledge of the Ag and Food System economy, develop an entrepreneurial spirit, and learn from one another,” said Turner, who takes the reins as CCE director Dec. 1. “No matter what direction they may take, it is clear they will be making major contributions, and it is inspiring to see how much they are already accomplishing!”

“New York Agriculture in the Classroom is so proud to help bring the Grow-NY Youth Competition to students and teachers across the state. We are inspired by our next generation taking an interest to understand the issues facing food and agriculture systems today, and finding the solutions for tomorrow. This year’s student presentations invoked such hope for the future of agriculture, and we commend the finalists for their efforts,” said Katie Carpenter, director of New York Agriculture in the Classroom.

Jenn Smith, director of Food and Agriculture Programs at Cornell’s Center for Regional Economic Advancement and Grow-NY lead said, “The youth competition is an essential part of Grow-NY’s ecosystem-building efforts. I’m inspired by the entrepreneurial mindset that students and teachers bring to the Grow-NY Youth Competition each year, and grateful to the organizers for being willing to add their shine to the Summit.”

Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo, chair of the New York state Assembly Agriculture Committee was on hand to distribute the competition’s awards. “I was very impressed by the young people who competed from across New York state,” she said. “They inspire hope for the future of agriculture and food in our state.”

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