Empowering Communities

Students Learn Potential of Solar to Address Food Deserts

March 5, 2019

Not all communities have the luxury of quick and easy access to grocery stores and fresh foods.

As part of its Solar Spotlight program during Black History Month, ComEd exposed African-American high school students to opportunities in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), while also working to improve healthy food access in their communities.

The 134-step instruction booklet seemed daunting, but the Chicago-area students made it look easy as they assembled solar-powered grow boxes that have the potential to help address food deserts – urban areas where it’s difficult to find fresh and affordable food.

Before the students strapped on their safety glasses, they heard from several inspiring speakers, including a recent college graduate who is changing the food apartheid in Chicago.

Dejah Powell, who recently earned her environmental science degree from Cornell University, fueled the room with passion and knowledge as she told the nearly 60 students about her story and how they can work to improve their own communities.

“It’s not enough to just know a problem exists. It’s more important to fix it,” Powell said.

Like Powell, who grew up on the South Side of Chicago, some of the students also live and go to school in places where it’s hard to access fresh foods.

Her interest in this topic was awakened in high school and since then has only grown.

With the help of volunteers, Powell created a garden in her community that provides fresh fruits and vegetables. She also created her own non-profit, Get Them to the Green, focused on protecting the environment while educating and providing opportunities for youth. In addition, Powell is a founder of Black & Well, an organization that provides a space to integrate wellness for the black community.

It’s clear that Powell’s story has enhanced her community and inspired the students. At the same time that students sharpened their STEM skills, they also came away with new ideas for how to better their communities.