The difference between a child discovering a passion and aligning it with purpose, and an adult that still seeks this connection, may just lie in the hands of an elder that spent time with the next generation and inspired greatness with decades-old family stories. After all, if it weren’t for Shloke Patel’s grandmother and her accounts of food scarcities in India, we may not have this opportunity to be in front of someone who is well-positioned to change the world. If you aren’t familiar with sustainable agriculture and how one microbial fungicide could impact hunger on a global scale, then you must first know Hillsborough High School student Shloke Patel.
TBPM: For two years you have been recognized for your ongoing research and presentations on the microbial formulation you created to treat plants and provide long-term solutions to crop health and food availability. How did you initially become interested in this?
Shloke Patel: I initially became interested in the field of agriculture and the issue of food insecurity because of the stories my grandmother used to tell me about her life in the village in India, which taught me the impact of food insecurity on society. I have volunteered at local food pantries and I have witnessed first-hand the effect of food insecurity.
TBPM: In addition to the state, national, and international STEM fairs that you have developed a winning presence at, you have also made incredible contributions to the local Tampa Bay community. Please tell us about your volunteer roles, nonprofit involvement, and hometown projects you have started.
Shloke Patel: I recently started building tiny science libraries in the local community parks in an effort to increase scientific literacy in our community. We are planning to install 7 small science libraries by the end of this summer throughout Tampa Bay. I am also a scientific diver for Scubanauts, an organization that aims to make the oceans cleaner and healthier through fish surveying, restoring coral reefs and research projects. Additionally, I am the president of the hugely popular Science Buddies club at my school where the members of the club and I go to local elementary schools and perform science experiments to teach the children about scientific principles and create interest in scientific methods.
I am the co-founder of MangoUnited LLC. which provides farm-to-table solutions for the customers while supporting local farmers. We source fresh fruits through sustainable farming and deliver it nationally, and educate farmers about soil health and eco-friendly alternatives.
I also participated in Boys State, which is a program that provides a simulation for the Florida legislature. I was elected to the House of Representatives and supported environmentally sustainable policies. I also won the congressional app challenge in which I coded an app that would track calories of in-school purchases and sync it with meals students have eaten throughout the day.
TBPM: It is truly inspiring that the work you have done has attracted the attention of big names like the University of Arizona and Bristol Myers Squibb. You even inspire the love of science at school and among those younger than you. Who or what inspires you to stay connected to science?
Shloke Patel: My love for food is the inspiration for my passion in agriculture. I grew up around farms and always had access to fresh produce. My love for farming combined with my interest in the scientific method inspires me to identify problems and find innovative solutions in the field of sustainable agriculture.
TBPM: Now that you have a truly innovative product on-hand, what do you plan to do with it?
Shloke Patel: Fungal diseases cause an estimated 30% crop loss in infected fields. I plan to develop the microbial fungicide commercially, and I have gathered a team to help me do this. We already have a provisional patent on the microbial formulations, and are looking forward to revolutionizing the fungicide industry. I have participated in science fairs since sixth grade.
TBPM: What do you plan to study next? Will you expand or continue the research on the herbal bionematicide?
Shloke Patel: In college I plan to pursue material science and sustainability. I want to work on ecological solutions on a global scale. I also plan to field test the microbial formulations and test their efficacy on a variety of plants.
TBPM: What do you like to do for fun?
Shloke Patel: For fun I love scuba diving, tending to my backyard garden, cooking, watching movies and fencing.
Originally published in August 2022 of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.