Jake Meyers (left) produced a digital story with Francis Wachira (right) who believes urban farming is the key to feeding the future and tackling climate change. (Photo courtesy of Jake Meyers)
Jake Meyers (left) produced a digital story with Francis Wachira (right) who believes urban farming is the key to feeding the future and tackling climate change. (Photo courtesy of Jake Meyers)

UArizona Graduate Student Wins National Storytelling Competition

Jake Meyers' video followed an urban farmer in Nairobi, Kenya. The grand prize for his piece is an expedition to Iceland with National Geographic.
April 9, 2020

Jake Meyers, a graduate student in the University of Arizona's master's in development practice program, has won the Best Sharable Video award in Planet Forward's national Storyfest 2020 competition.

As a grand prize winner, Meyers will report on pressing environmental issues in Iceland on a storytelling assignment with Planet Forward and Lindblad Expeditions on the National Geographic Explorer vessel.

Planet Forward was founded in 2009 by Emmy Award-winning journalist Frank Sesno as a project of the Center for Innovative Media at the George Washington University School of Media and Public Affairs. The project teaches, celebrates and rewards environmental storytelling by students from across the country.

As a master's student in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences' School of Geography and Development, Meyers works at the intersection of climate adaptation and food security. During the summer of 2019, Meyers collaborated with the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, to investigate climate adaptation solutions to food insecurity in the rapidly urbanizing nation.

Meyers' video, "Can urban farming feed the future?," shares the story of Francis Wachira, a leading advocate for urban farming in Nairobi.

"Millions of people are migrating from rural to urban areas as large-scale farming, coupled with climate change, force small-scale farmers to abandon their livelihoods and pursue economic opportunity in urban areas," Meyers said.

As food security concerns grow for the people of Nairobi, farmers like Wachira are transforming urban lots into highly productive green spaces to raise livestock, grow vegetables and fight climate change.

"Francis has an incredible urban farming system that features over 600 head of livestock and 150 species of plants on a quarter hectare of land in the heart of Nairobi," Meyers said. "I wanted to elevate Francis and his innovative approach to urban farming through storytelling with the goal of inspiring change."

Meyers hopes that his experience will help inspire others at the University of Arizona to seek out opportunities to incorporate storytelling into their own work and research.

"The University of Arizona is a member of the 22-strong consortium schools of Planet Forward," said James Buizer, a professor in the UArizona School of Natural Resources and the Environment, interim director of the Arizona Institutes for Resilient Environment and Societies, and a member of the Planet Forward Advisory Council. "It is a huge honor to have a University of Arizona student win this highly competitive national award. We are taking a leading role in training the next generation of scholars and practitioners in the art of science communication. Jake's award brings national recognition to the University of Arizona as a premier academic institution committed to informing, educating and raising awareness of science-related topics. With generous support from the Agnese Nelms Haury Program in Environment and Social Justice we were able to send Jake to the Planet Forward Summit in April 2019 in Washington, D.C., which clearly paid off."

At the summit, Meyers networked and engaged with storytellers from across the globe, including National Geographic reporters and representatives of the World Food Program and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. What he learned there, he applied to his video shoot in Nairobi.

Last year, Meyers joined the Planet Forward team as a correspondent and has published stories on a variety of topics, including the Tucson Climate March, the border wall's impact on migratory species and how Buddhist monks in Myanmar are using meditation to bring attention to the climate crisis.

"Jake Meyers realizes that climate change and social justice are inseparable and that we cannot have a sustainable planet without a socially just one," said Gina Murphy-Darling, the founder and CEO of the locally operated educational platform Mrs. Green's World and a media partner with Planet Forward. "Through a creative partnership between Mrs. Green's World, Planet Forward and the University of Arizona, we have begun to increase awareness of our combined commitments to work towards creating a world that works for everyone."

"Throughout my academic and professional career, I have become so inspired by many incredible people like Francis Wachira. So many around the world are re-imagining solutions to poverty and climate change, yet their stories remain untold. I hope to continue using storytelling as a means of highlighting different perspectives that can create impact and advocate for transformational change," Meyers said.

In Iceland, he and other award winners will explore the rich biodiversity of the remote Westfjords, home to nesting puffins and humpback whales, and investigate how an island nation best known for its glaciers is using the power of geothermal energy to create a more sustainable society. The trip will take place when it is safe to travel again. 

"I'm looking forward to learning how to better produce stories under the instruction of National Geographic certified photographers and naturalists while receiving editorial guidance from Frank Sesno and the Planet Forward team," he said.