NOGECO, founded by youth from Ambos Nogales was awarded for their innovative startup which diverts food waste from their community.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”   — Margaret Mead

The current climate crisis has Mother Earth desperate for change—a shift—a shift in small every day actions to large institutional structures. Enter: Shift Day 2020. Shift Day launched on Wednesday, April 22 — Earth Day’s 50th Anniversary. The virtual event invited impact-driven youth to pitch their solutions to the climate crisis for the chance to win a cash prize of $5,000.

The guidelines given by For the World, the nonprofit that planned and organized Shift Day, instructed participants to address one of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). There are 17 prioritized SDGs, all interconnected, with the goal of achievement by 2030 —”to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all.”

Startup Unidos, a regional organization promoting innovation without borders, was also involved in Shift Day, and provided a Food Waste Challenge to participants, awarding a submission that was tackling problems related to food waste. Startup Unidos selected #DevTech, of Tecmilenio University Chihuahua, Mexico for their idea of providing biodigester kits to low-income families. Biodigesters create renewable energy to support households, all from would-be food waste and plastic. “I was very impressed with how DevTech is looking to create clean energy for the most vulnerable communities through the use of organic waste that stagnates at the border. It is precisely solutions like theirs that will move the needle on creating second opportunities for a greener world” Stephanie Bermudez, Founder and CEO at Startup Unidos

In addition to the biodigester solution, Shift Day submissions ranged from permaculture education platform to an app that eliminates non-recyclable receipts. There were 15 submissions total, and all voting was done by the public via the For the World website.

With 800+ votes, UArizona backed WASTE NOT youth startup, NOGECO, took home the grand prize with the most votes for their creative and developed idea of diverting food waste from the Rio Rico, Arizona landfill.

After nine months developing their startup, NOGECO was thrilled to celebrate this win. NOGECO is a team of seven middle, high school and early college students coming from Nogales and Rio Rico, and their collaboration was fostered by Startup Unidos, and the University of Arizona Office of Sustainability Compost Cats. Both organizations guided the young startup through workshops focusing on economic, environmental, and social sustainability as well as providing mentorship while exploring different approaches to mitigating food waste at the border.

With 60% of America’s fresh fruits and vegetables passing through Nogales from Mexico, there is a reported 60 million pounds of food waste every year that ends up in the local landfill.

NOGECO’s solution? Converting tomatoes into organic and eco-friendly beauty products, and this is just the start. Their long-term goal is supporting the creation of a composting center, ultimately diverting more food waste, creating jobs and helping alleviate poverty.

“With the help of Eller Tech Core, we designed Shift Day to be an opportunity for students to reconnect virtually in the middle of this pandemic and focus on something positive — building and launching solutions to help our community and the world work and live more sustainably. It was no surprise that NOGECO took the 1st place spot. They showed up to Shift Day with a ton of energy and optimism. I’m excited that the prize money will be used to help NOGECO take their project to the next level, get some of their first products to the market and start to generate revenue — not to mention redirect valuable food that would

have otherwise gone to waste in a landfill” said Shane Reiser, Founder of For The World.

NOGECO plans on using the funds to prototype and test their beauty product made with organic tomatoes, build their web store and launch their product. The group refers to themselves as co-founders “who are all passionate about creating innovative solutions to outdated problems.”

Thanks to the partnership between WASTE NOT and Startup Unidos, NOGECO has emerged as a leader in the fight against climate change, and are evidence that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world.

Eager for more? Hear what the members of NOGECO and their parents had to say after receiving the award from U Arizona:

“I was super excited and honored to win the prize. My team and I are looking forward to take this to the next step,” said Sergio Astorga, an 19-years-old pre-law undergraduate student at U Arizona who handles legal and compliance matters for NOGECO.

“It was super cool and exciting! I think I yelled with excitement for five minutes when we found out! It really put into perspective for me how real this project we’ve created is. And how much my family cares” Mina Talavera, 13-years-old, Social Impact Officer at NOGECO and 7th Grade Student at Little Red Schoolhouse

“This experience has been incredible for my daughter. Her confidence has grown exponentially and given her something to be really proud of. As the youngest member of the group, Mina has a real sense of responsibility to her peers and this project. I could not be more proud of all of these kids for working so hard and taking it so seriously.” Nisa Talavera, mother of Mina Talavera, 13-years-old, Social Impact Officer at NOGECO

“For me, winning the prize wasn’t the best part, it was being able to see support from so many people, and the community pulling together to support the youth. Having us win with more than eight hundred votes, gives me more hope than ever that we’ll be able to make an impact in our city.” Vivian Probst, 17-years-old, Brand and Marketing Director at NOGECO and Junior at Nogales High School

About NOGECO: NOGECO is a startup based in Nogales, Arizona originally developed as a project of WASTE NOT: Borderlands Innovations in Food Waste Management. WASTE NOT works with young people to explore the issues surrounding the surplus of food waste through ethnographic research, hands-on workshops, and entrepreneurial education. WASTE NOT is a collaboration between VozFrontera, Southwest Folklife Alliance, an affiliate of the University of Arizona, Startup Unidos (SU) and the UArizona Office of Sustainability. The program creates opportunities for youth to see themselves as problem solvers in their own community.