Daniella Velazquez De Leon

GROW Scholar Highlight: Meet Jenifer

img blog

Meet Jenifer, one of our GROW Scholarship Recipients!

The Scholarship Program

Poverty and wealth inequality are significant challenges in Mexico. About 18% of the country lives in extreme poverty, and among rural communities, school dropout rates, absences, and grade repetition are serious problems.

These issues are seen in settings like Cerro de Ortega, one of the communities where a lot of our scholars live, where there is a higher incidence of violence and drug abuse.

In this type of setting, children are often encouraged to start contributing to family finances rather than continuing school. This is because school means more expenses such as: internet access, commuting, uniforms, and school supplies.

Through the program that is administered in conjunction with Project Amigo, students and parents learn to understand the value of education and a pathway for a better future early on. The retention rate for those proceeding to middle school is 87% compared to 65% for those who do not participate in the program. Similarly, students from Cerro de Ortega who have been supported through GROW show a higher level of advancement to university than any other area of the state.

Meet Jenifer

Jenifer is 14 years old and in her second year of junior high. She lives with her mother and three siblings. Her mom works making tortillas.

  • What she wants to be when she grows up: a lawyer
  • Her favorite subject: science
  • Hobbies: reading and drawing

When she learned that she’d been awarded a place in the GROW Scholarship Program she shared it, “Made me so happy I wanted to jump for joy!”

As a GROW Scholar, Jenifer is responsible for maintaining a GPA higher than 8.5, performing 10 hours of community service each month, and attending homework club.

Subscribe to our blog to stay updated on Jenifer’s journey!

Woman Led: Fighting for Environmental Justice

img blog

GROW Program and Our Border Community

An important pillar of our business model is to give back to the communities we impact. We are headquartered in San Diego and form part of the bustling bi-national community on the Mexican border. To that end, it is important that we are helping shape the communities we touch in a positive manner.

Moms vs. Maquiladoras

Tijuana, one of the busiest land border crossings in the world, is also home to over 300 maquiladoras, or assembly plants. While this provides a lot of jobs, it often results in the unregulated pollution of waterways and local communities.

In the 1980s and 90s, a fierce group of stay-at-home mothers decided to fight against the contamination that was affecting their children and community in Tijuana. They banded together as Colectivo Chilpancingo, and after a decade of work, they successfully lobbied the government in closing a battery recycling plant and secured a commitment from the government to safely dispose of the over 45,000 tons of waste that the plant left behind.

Protecting Our Communities

Today, Colectivo Chilpancingo, in partnership with the Environmental Health Coalition and the GROW program, continues the fight for environmental justice, defending the right to live in healthy and sustainable communities. In 2011, the Alamar River began to be channelized, depleting the area of its natural ecosystem, an area of natural recreation, and displacing part of the community. 

The unchannelized portion is one of the few lush, nature-rich areas left in Tijuana while the channelized portion has divided the Chilpancingo community. Trash and pollution now plague the once nature-rich neighborhood. The displaced families are now compelled to take up shelter in shanty towns across the channel, and women and children are forced to cross a freeway and haphazardly constructed paths to make their way across the polluted channel and into their town to work or attend school.

Through the work being done by the Environmental Health Coalition and the GROW program, we support these communities along our border in their struggle for environmental justice, improving air pollution and preserving the river.

To learn more about the work they continue to do in conjunction with the Environmental Health Coalition, you can visit their site or follow them on Instagram.

Woman Led: Meet Daniella, our General Manager

img blog

Women Making a Difference

Organics Unlimited is a proudly woman-owned and woman-led company. We believe that through diversity and inclusion in the workplace we can foster creative collaboration and empowerment that strengthens our communities and economies. To celebrate this year’s Women’s History Month we’re highlighting the women leaders that make us who we are.

Third Generation Banana Wholesaler

Daniella is the newest generation of this family business: fourth generation of organic growers in her family and the third generation of organic banana wholesalers.

A San Diego local, she started her career in advertising and dedicated seven years to developing digital marketing solutions when Facebook, Pinterest, and Snapchat’s API platforms were in their nascent stages.

In her free time, she would help out with the family business and join Mayra at industry trade shows. It was at one of these event where, upon seeing how passionate industry members were about impacting social change, that she made the leap to dedicate herself full-time to the family business. She worked her way through the different departments, learning to drive a forklift to load bananas (admittedly not her forte), coordinated warehouse operations and logistics with the farms, and contributed to marketing efforts.

What drives her is her mission to positively impact our food system. She is a firm advocate for fair pricing for growers and a decentralized food system that prioritizes local, independent farmers.

Q & A with Daniella

Why are you passionate about what you do?

Daniella: I’m passionate about contributing to a resilient, sustainable food system. At Organics Unlimited we do that by supporting a decentralized food system that supports families, small growers, and independent retailers: the heart of our communities.

Who has inspired you?

Daniella: I’m inspired by the pioneers of the Organic Movement. Folks like the Lively brothers, David Weinstein, and my own grandfather. As organic has gone “mainstream,” consolidated and absorbed by Big Ag, my intention is to continue to live by the values that drove the original movement. I do this for our communities, for our environment, and our future.

What are your hobbies? Reading and drawing! I love a good novel and on weekends you can find me at a local coffee shop drawing for hours.

What piece of advice would you give a woman who’s just started her career?

Daniella: Nobody knows what they’re doing 100% of the time, confidence matters. You don’t need to know everything to take the next step. Yes, it will feel uncomfortable but discomfort is necessary to grow, learn, and evolve in your career (and it feels SO good when you master it).

What values are most important in a leader?

Daniella: You need to be passionate and believe in what you do because that is transmitted to your team. It’s important to lead by example and walk the talk; a leader doesn’t sit back and tell people what to do, she is down in the trenches working alongside her team.