Ugo Angeletti set out to track how much trash people produce in a week for a high school science project, and he ended up creating a compost nonprofit in Miami.
Angeletti, 19, and his sister Emma, 17, on Monday were awarded top honors in General Mills’ second-annual Feeding Better Futures Scholars Program that seeks to harness the ingenuity and boldness of youths who are tackling problems in hunger, food waste and sustainable agriculture.
When General Mills CEO Jeff Harmening read his name as the grand-prize winner, Ugo Angeletti said, “I thought I was going to faint.”
The siblings received $50,000 to advance their composting organization and their own education. Two runners-up, 18-year-old Bradley Ferguson from New Jersey and 15-year-old Kenzie Hinson from North Carolina, each received $10,000 to further the projects they have begun in their communities.
“You are all impressive,” Harmening told the finalists at a ceremony. “The definition of success is tenacity and trying and keeping at it.”
The program is run by the General Mills Foundation, which oversees the company’s philanthropic efforts in the areas of sustainable agriculture, food security and hometown communities.
“The program stemmed from our observation that there are more young people involved in solving these grand issues of our time,” said Nicola Dixon, the foundation’s executive director. “They are doing things many of us would be proud of as full-blown adults.”
The foundation wanted to focus on ideas from young people, who tend to act more quickly on their vision than adults, Dixon said.
“Because they have such an urgent sense of what I’ll broadly define as issues of climate change and global hunger, they have a bias for action,” she said. “Adults tend to assess, strategize and research. You can find the research to talk yourself out of doing almost anything.”
The Angelettis’ program, called back2earth, started two years ago and quickly gained traction in the Miami area. A local woman liked the concept so much she donated half an acre for them to use for composting, in addition to their family’s backyard. The duo’s younger sisters, ages 13 and 15, also help run the operation.
They provide residents with compost buckets that, when full, can be brought to one of their four drop-off sites. That compost is then used to fertilize community gardens that grow vegetables that they donate to low-income families.
A key component of the program is educating younger kids and adults about food waste. They plan to use the prize money to grow the community drop-off stations to 20 throughout southern Florida, said Emma Angeletti.
As a part of the prize, the Angelettis will have the opportunity to share their idea at the Aspen Ideas Festival in June.