Meet Dejah – A Net Impact Fellow with a Vision for a Healthier and Greener Chicago

By: Net Impact staff | February 22, 2017

Net Impact Healthy Food Fellow, Dejah Powell is driving positive change in Chicago.
Net Impact Healthy Food Fellow, Dejah Powell is driving positive change in Chicago.

The Net Impact Fellowship is a year-long leadership development program where students implement action projects on their campus or in their community. 

This year’s cohorts of fellows are passionate and innovative emerging leaders activating around healthy food, racial equity, criminal justice, and impact design.

Dejah is a Healthy Food Fellow studying Environmental Science and Sustainability at Cornell University. Her passion for the environment and food solutions has inspired her to launch a sustainably ran organic school garden through her old elementary school this upcoming spring and summer.

Why did you first decide to take action around healthy food?

My personal enlightenment to break away from fast food chains and my interest in healthy food came from a sophomore year biology class in high school. A unit of our curriculum was spent reading Omnivore’s Dilemma and watching movies like King Corn and Food Inc. I was appalled by the treatment of chickens and cattle. I was disgusted at what really went into the chicken nuggets I causally dipped in barbecue sauce and ate at McDonalds. I was even so motivated by these movies that I went into my elementary school to give discussion on The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of our nation’s food system. I soon realized that my education and desperate need to increase the public’s awareness could not stop with elementary school students. 

Can you tell us more about your action project?

My action project is a smaller component of a larger vision that I have of urban agriculture and community and school gardens in Chicago. I am partnering with my elementary school to launch a sustainably ran organic school garden this upcoming spring and summer. The main event through the Net Impact Fellowship that I’m planning is a Community Food Day and Celebration to celebrate the beginning and building of the school garden. 

How did you know this was the right project for you to work on?

I have always been interested in urban agriculture, specifically community farms and gardens.  Due to the creation of my organization, Get Them to the Green, and existing grant money that I had applied for, the project through Net Impact was a great transition into starting work with healthy food and urban gardening at my former elementary school.

What is something you learned from your fellowship experience that you weren’t expecting?

I was not expecting to connect with other people also interested in doing work within healthy food! It’s very inspiring to see the many ways that people are addressing the problem within their respective communities. 

How has the experience shaped your future plans?

I definitely am considering working full on after college on helping spring up gardens and community farms across the city. I’d love to be an organizer, connecting people with the resources to make themselves food sufficient. With support from an organization such as Net Impact, I now find it possible to search for other fellowships and organizations that will support me in carrying out my vision of healthy food accessibility in Chicago. 

How did you first hear about Net Impact?

I’m in the Cornell Sustainable Enterprise Association Club on campus and before attending the conference, saw the opportunity to be a Healthy Food Fellow. 

What do you think is the most critical issue facing the world today?

Climate change is the most critical issue facing the world today. It intensifies and exacerbates many of the other pressing issues, including poverty, wars, and crime. 

Thank you to Newman's Own Foundation for sponsoring Net Impact's Healthy Food Fellowship. To learn more about Net Impact's Fellowships please see here

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