Who We Are
Jessica L. Weiss Founder & Executive Director growingSOUL
A 29-year resident of the DC metropolitan region, Jessica returned to her NY roots in 2019. She is a UC Berkeley graduate, with a Space Planning degree from FIDM and combined Montessori/Loyola University Masters in Education and Curriculum Development. She was a wellness instructor for Holy Cross Hospital for 20 years and has worked in the food industry since she was in high school.
Jessica is a visionary leader who has created a sustainable, urban farm-to-table food system through her non-profit organization, growingSOUL. With more than 40 years of experience in the food industry, Jessica has a deep understanding of the importance of healthy food and its impact on communities. Her passion for sustainable living and desire to do community service led her to create growingSOUL -- Sustainable Opportunities for Universal Learning -- in 2009, that has since become a self-reliant, economically sustainable food system-focused non-profit 501(c)(3) that produces, processes, preserves, and distributes fresh food while also recycling nutrients through composting.
In the fall of 2019, Jessica moved to Queens, New York, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was beginning to take hold. She pivoted her efforts towards creating the growingSOUL Collaborative Network, which was awarded the NYC Mayoral Service Recognition Certificate for feeding 1.5 million NYC residents during 2020-21. Throughout the pandemic, the Collaborative shared out 750,000 32-pound USDA Farmers to Families Food Boxes throughout West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Washington DC and New York.
Now in 2022-23, Jessica has created a Zero Waste Demonstration Model in partnership with Cornell Cooperative Extension Sullivan County, that includes a horticulture plan with a wheelchair-accessible kitchen garden for food production, a zero-waste community kitchen at The Catskills Kitchen, hybrid and electric vehicle food distribution, and community vermicomposting. The model also includes a hoop house and an anaerobic digester where biogas is generated, and “Soil with SOUL” compost and worm castings are produced as well as a probiotic liquid fertilizer approved for use on organic farms, “2ndHelpings:A Plant Food Solution”.
Jessica's approach is multi-generational and diverse, with volunteers engaging hands-on and becoming lifelong learners and connectors. She sees food sovereignty as the most vital freedom that all people deserve, and she draws inspiration from the Quakers feeding their enslaved neighbors along the Underground Railroad soil trails. Now upstate, Jessica is pivoting to the communities of the Catskills along the Woodstock Peace Trails that provided land and food for American youth feeling enslaved by war starting back in the late 1960s. Today, Jessica’s replicable model embodied in growingSOUL seeks to re-engage modern communities from post-COVID trauma to Get Back to the Garden, rejuvenate ancient soil, and set our souls free.
growingSOUL EarthDefenders and our collaborative partners are dedicated to
Putting Stock in Our Communities and creating YardLinks to cultivate the healthy soils
in which good food and strong communities grow & thrive!