One Eagle Scout’s Hydroponic Gardening Project Tackles Hunger in Five Countries with Christian Heiden (Episode #123)
There’s a generation coming up that could be called the “see it and then solve it” generation. They look at problems like riddles just waiting to be solved, and then they start ingeniously doing what they can with what they’ve got. Today’s guest, Christian Heiden, is an amazing example of this style of innovator. He has taken an Eagle Scout project he started at age 16, and turned it into a solution to malnutrition and food insecurity in 5 countries and the impact of the endeavor is expanding at an extraordinary, inspiring pace.
About Our Guest:
Christian Heiden is Founder and Director of Innovation for a nonprofit called LevoInternational.org that has taken the concept of hydroponic farming—growing plants in a water-based solution rather than soil—to a whole new level by simplifying it and making it radically accessible to anyone in the world, no matter the space constraints or lack of resources.
This is the opposite of the direction hydroponic gardening had been going for decades, making more and more inaccessible to the ordinary, urban gardener in places where food deserts are the norm.
And it’s this simplicity of design that is turning heads and feeding hungry people from Hartford to Haiti!
Levo began with a determination to take action: that “see it and then solve it” kind of boldness.
In fact, the Boy Scout leaders thought that Christian’s proposal was too ambitious. He had proposed the construction of a hydroponic greenhouse for an agency operating in Haiti, but the costs and risks associated with the project were outside what the Boy Scouts thought were realistic. Undeterred, Christian completed his Eagle Scout project building a greenhouse for his high school and then set out to do what he had always wanted to do.
Working together with his family, a plan was put together and executed to begin to bring a sustainable food supply to the poorest country in the Western hemisphere.
Thanks to the willing participation and support of Many Hands for Haiti, Christian, his father, Bill Heiden, and Nate Heiden (Christian’s brother) built a demonstration greenhouse in July of 2016 on the Many Hands compound in Pignon, Haiti.
A new team of young people joined the effort, and in 2017 the project took off. Five years later in 2022, a pilot was launched to provide 300 school children with hydroponics in Haiti.
In the United States, the Levo team launched a CSA urban farming pilot to provide Hartford, CT growers with hydroponics and a market system that now touches the lives of thousands. It works with local churches and organizations to create a network of growers and buyers in Greater Hartford, pioneering a whole new approach to the local food system that is not based on charity, but on mutually beneficial commercial partnerships.
Christian is a recent graduate of the University of Connecticut, with a B.S. in Applied and Resource Economics and a concentration in International Development. Self taught in hydroponic technology and design, he has used his experience through the entire journey to become an amazing leader.
The arc of his innovation mindset has gone in the direction of simplification. Over and over, he and his team have found ways to make this basic technology simpler and more accessible.
It’s an element we rarely see in conjunction with innovation. But I suspect this is the element that can connect Christian’s story to our own stories. “Keep it simple” is a concept we can all stand to hear more often when solving problems.
We are honored to celebrate his vision and accomplishments thus far and look forward to seeing the impact of all this as the years go by. If you can do this in your mid-20’s, there is no telling what the future will bring! Christian’s determination and innovative mindset will, no doubt, lead to countless avenues of impact over the scope of time.
- Levo International: https://levointernational.org/
- Support the Fight Against Hunger: https://levointernational.org/donate-3-1
(00:00- 03:22) OPENING
- PODCAST: Finding Your Best Self By Solving a Problem for Others with Sarah Leathers
- The One Eagle Scout’s Hydroponic Gardening Project Story
- If it worked in Dominican Republic, it will work in Haiti
- Countries we work with: Jamaica, Puerto Rico and a number of projects in the US
- Hydroponics started in Egypt
- Greenhouse and hydroponics technology
- Advantage of hydroponics
- There are a lot of communities that are doing great work that just don’t have the leverage they need to really enact the change they need
- City of Harrisburg
- Critical for systemic change
- It’s not just a matter of producing food, it’s about producing food so it permanently reaches people consistently
- We want a system that works for everybody
- Market-based approach to food insecurity and hunger
- It’s about connecting things that already exists
- PODCAST: Collaborative Hub Breathes Life into Big Ideas for Entrepreneurs of Color with LoLo Smith and George Zarebski
(26:40- 29:44) BREAK
- Levo International
- Volunteers that are all-in
- PODCAST: Looking for Easy Ways to Volunteer? There’s an App for That! with Stephanie Page
- Highschool Friend: Josh
- Brian Waterston
- If you want to make change happen, it is never a one man or woman show
- You and your choices matter
- Agriculture is so separated from the community
(44:04- 44:15) CLOSING