Teenage food activists get props

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West Milford students Murad Yassin, 16, and Rebecca Byrne, 18, are seeing more and more recognition for their work that began with starting a seed exchange at the town library, and has expanded to studying GMOs and distributing organic seeds to Africa.

Now in its third year, the seed exchange is stocked with organic seeds available for checkout from the West Milford public library (over 500 packets were checked out in March alone). It all started with Yassin saving the seeds as he chopped vegetables behind the deli counter of his family’s health food store. When he found he had a surplus on his hands, his 4-H leader introduced the concept of a seed bank. Since then, Rebecca, who along with Murad is a member of the 4-H Velveteens of Passaic County, hooked up with mission trips to send along boxes of organic seeds to Liberia, Zimbabwe, South America, Katmandu.

Both teens were recently named Borlaug Scholars by Rutgers and the World Prize NJ Youth Institute. The prize is in the legacy of Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Norman Borlaug, who worked to feed the world’s hungry. For the event – focused on the question: how are we going to feed 10 billion people? – each student prepared a paper for a panel of judges: Murad’s presentation was on GMOs in the United States and Rebecca’s was on water scarcity in Zimbabwe.

For now Murad is working on making the seed exchange a nonprofit. His goal is to give “everyone the option to have organic free seeds if they want.”

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West Milford, NJ