Bridgehampton School Student Aims to Make a Dent in Food Insecurity

James Fairchild is headed to the Global Youth Institute to talk food insecurity. Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz photo

James Fairchild’s resume reads like a future CEO in the making. Architecture internship in Argentina? Been there. Robotics team pilot, two years in a row? Done that. Decorated varsity tennis player? Check.

Write a five-page research paper on the reasons why people in the African nation of Liberia are going hungry and propose a realistic, three-pronged approach to solving the problem? It took him three months, but he did that, too.

James, a 17-year-old senior at Bridgehampton High School, has been named a Borlaug Scholar by Cornell University for his efforts to address food insecurity in Liberia. In a few weeks, he’ll travel to Des Moines, Iowa, for the Global Youth Institute, sponsored by the World Food Prize Foundation, to defend his research in front of a panel of international experts. He is one of 200 high school students chosen from around the world to attend the conference.

“I wanted to problem solve. I love thinking outside the box,” James said by phone, taking a break from his internship with an Argentinian architecture firm for an interview this week. “I feel very prepared. If anything, I have too much information.”

He chose Liberia as his subject after thinking about the impact that the country’s 14-year-long civil war had on its infrastructure, such as its roads, electrical grid and water supply. He realized through his research that much of Liberia has ideal conditions for growing food, yet many people are malnourished.

“With minimum or no access to roads, even fewer markets to distribute the food, and little to no capability to process or store the food for the future, the Liberians’ ability to manage the crops and food they have has been greatly diminished,” James wrote. “…The resulting lack of a continuous supply of food is not a problem that can be solved with just an invention — what it needs instead is a deep and more layered approach.”

Combining some of his academic interests, such as business and agriculture, James brainstormed solutions including a microfinancing system, providing solar-powered internet stations and mandatory infrastructure investments by companies that want to profit from Liberia’s natural resources.

“At first I thought it seemed like a lot of work and it wouldn’t be fun, but it turned out to be exactly what I love. It taught me how to really go in-depth on a research paper,” said James, who spent his own free time writing the paper and preparing for the conference over the last few months.

He was encouraged to do so by Bridgehampton teacher Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, who teaches courses in agriculture, botany, landscape architecture and technology. She called her student “dedicated and ambitious,” and said he will also be among the first Bridgehampton students to graduate with the school’s new agricultural certification on his diploma.

“He’s a really thoughtful, mature, sensitive, nice kid,” Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz said. “He’s the perfect student, really eager to learn, but who is humble about it and is willing to work hard.”

She said James is a role model at Bridgehampton.

“He takes a leadership role without even realizing it, and it’s contagious,” Ms. Carmack-Fayyaz said. “Kids hop on and realize it’s actually quite fun to learn.”