16 Under 16 in STEM: A New York Teen Advocates for New-Age Farming Through Film

Steven Hoffen increases awareness and education about hydroponic farming for urban and arid areas through filmmaking and a nonprofit

This summer we’ve been celebrating America’s 16 under 16 in STEM — young learners who have already made a meaningful mark in their schools and communities. 

Today we’re spotlighting 14-year-old Steven Hoffen, who attends the Riverdale Country School in the Bronx, New York. 

A pre-pandemic visit to Sindyanna of Galilee, a nonprofit in Israel where Jewish and Arab women work together to foster social change and cultivate hydroponic gardens, inspired Steven to produce a short documentary telling the story of their efforts.

“What really caught my attention was Hadas [Lahav], who was a Jewish [woman] cooperating with Hanaan [Zoabi], who’s an Arab woman,” he said. “And so that really got my interest in all of their projects.”

Steven was especially interested in Sindayanna’s hydroponics, a form of vertical farming that doesn’t require soil or specific climate conditions. As Steven describes it, climate change has caused drier conditions and reduced availability of fertile land in Israel.

Inspired by a David Attenborough nature documentary his family watched on Netflix, Steven produced a documentary, “Growing Peace in the Middle East.” The film was recognized at numerous film festivals and prompted Hoffen to launch a nonprofit, Growing Peace, which is dedicated to using hydroponics “as a medium to educate, empower and help those in need.”

He also raised money to build a hydroponics system for a food bank in Israel that is primarily for Eritrean and Sudanese asylum seekers. 

“[Hadas] said that since my film has been [shown] in different film festivals, 20 more women have joined the hydroponics project,” Steven said. “That really just made me happy.”

See our full interview — and celebrate our full 2022 class!

—Video edited by James Fields and produced by Emmeline Zhao

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