Growing Leaders Who Grow Solutions

4-H is known for growing leaders, and Addy Battel and Pearl Daskam are two incredible examples of that. Jeff talks to the teens about how the skills they learned in 4-H led to the creation of a successful nonprofit tackling food insecurity.

February 24, 2020

Pearl Daskam and Addy Battel.

Growing Leaders Who Grow Solutions

Jeff Dwyer: 4-H, which is the youth development program of Michigan State University Extension, is known for growing leaders. Addy Battel and Pearl Daskam are two incredible examples of that. At the impressive age of 12, they founded the Cass City Meating The Need For Our Village Hunger Project, which helps low income families access high-quality meat.

Since then, the two teens have won multiple awards, including the national 4-H Youth in Action Award and the Governor Service Award, just to name a couple. They've also continued their passion for tackling hunger problems and food insecurity, both in their community and globally.

I'm Jeff Dwyer, director of Michigan State University Extension, and this is Partnerships and Peninsulas.

Intro: This is Partnerships and Peninsulas and just like the state of Michigan, this podcast is filled with stories of amazing people who are doing wonderful work from Marquette to Monroe. Sit back and discover everything you didn't know about Michigan State University Extension. Here's your host, Jeff Dwyer.

Jeff Dwyer: Pearl and Addy. Thank you so much for joining me today.

Pearl Daskam: Thank you so much for having us.

Addy Battel: We're very glad to be here. Thank you.

Jeff Dwyer: So in 2014, you both noticed that folks receiving food assistance in your community were really only getting canned or processed sources of protein, like the canned meats you might find at a food pantry. How did you both come up with this idea to start the Meating The Need For Our Village Hunger Project? Let's start with you, Pearl.

Pearl Daskam: Yeah. So like you said, we volunteered at a local food pantry and we realized that while the food pantries were doing a great job trying to create a balanced diet, we did realize that, well, they lacked funding to purchase high-quality protein, and so that was something that we could help with, with our agriculture background and our passion for volunteering in our community.

And so, we realized that that was something we could do so we use the skills and the resources that we had, and we got a group of friends together and we applied for a grant and we purchased some broiler chickens. So, that's kind of how it started.

Jeff Dwyer: So, let me ask a follow-up to that. So you mentioned you used the skills and resources that you had. You were 12. And I think most of us that aren't 12 anymore, look back at when we were 12 and we're like, we didn't have very many skills and resources.

So just tell me a little bit, Pearl, and we'll talk more about it later, but what was the platform? I mean, how did you get those skills and resources?

Pearl Daskam: Well, we were involved in 4-H from a very young age and I think that alone gave us a lot of the skills that we still use today and we're continuously learning new skills through 4-H. Through 4-H, and just through our agriculture background, you know, growing up in a rural community, I think that some of the two most important things in your life are agriculture and your community and so that was something that was kind of taught to me at a young age and I still value today. Yeah, I think the skills really came from growing up in a rural community and 4-H, being involved in 4-H, definitely.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, that's fantastic. Well, Addy, tell me a little bit from your perspective about how 4-H has helped you both start the project, but then all of the great things you've done since.

Addy Battel: 4-H provides members with a really empowering setting. 4-H trusts us to see problems in our community and come up with our own solutions. Meating The Need For Our Village wouldn't have come about without our parents and our 4-H leaders, who are also our parents. Believing that we could see a problem on our own and make a difference on our own, but also having resources through 4-H to help us do that. I didn't, at the time, even know what a hundred-dollar bill looked like, but now I had 2,500 hundred-dollar bills to spend on meat in the community, and they really helped us with that logistical type planning while at the same time letting us do the things that we wanted to do.

Jeff Dwyer: So Addy, tell me a little bit about how the Meating The Need For Our Village Hunger Project works.

Addy Battel: We have kept that sort of youth empowerment view all the way through at our work. So Pearl and I are seniors in high school going off to college next year. We've begun to transition Meating The Need For Our Village over to a next generation of volunteers. And that looks like a leadership team of youth, so there's four officers, a president, a vice president, a secretary and a treasurer, and they're in charge of the day-to-day operations of the work. And Pearl and I have moved to being involved on the board of directors. So the leadership team is going to take over our roles, you know, calling the food pantry, making arrangements, delivering meat and things like that and we'll still be there for some of that longevity. You know, that the institutional knowledge of Meating The Need For Our Village while we transition.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, you should both be very proud. I mean there are, as I'm sure you're aware, there are many things in the world today that get started and do good things, but transitions are difficult and it sounds like you've done a remarkable job.

So Pearl, tell me a little bit about how the project works in terms of how you acquire the meat, because it sounds like to me there's sort of, there's many components, but two big ones, right? You have to acquire the meat and then you're working with the pantries to get it where it needs to go. So tell me a little bit about how that works.

Pearl Daskam: We receive funding through a lot of grants and then support from our community as well. The members of Meating The Need For Our Village, the volunteers, they raise the animals either at their own houses or some of the animals are raised at the FFA barn as well. And so that's really how we raise the broiler chickens. We also acquire some of the meat through the fair as well. We have buyers that will donate the animals back to the project and then those animals will go to the food pantry. So that's a lot of how we acquire the meat and how it's given out.

Jeff Dwyer: That's terrific. So Addy, one of the most impressive parts of the hunger project is how quickly it's grown. You've donated nearly 10,000 pounds of meat, 2,000 gallons of milk, 200 dozen eggs and $60,000 worth of goods to people in need in your community.

And now as I understand it, over 150 youth are involved in one way or another. So to what do you attribute the fact that you've been able to grow this project so quickly?

Addy Battel: I think a supportive community is absolutely behind everything that we've been able to do. And that comes from supportive parents who, like I said before, use 4-H materials to allow us to do what we do, supportive community service groups. You know, we learned to, as long as we approach them with a very tangible ask, they'll give us more money than we know what to do with.

And that's been a learning experience for us, to learn how to budget for those amounts of money and spend them in very productive ways and budget for different organizations, restrictions. I absolutely think that supportive community has enabled us to do this and see that we're doing good things and they want to see us continue to do so.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, you certainly are doing good things, and we're grateful and we've had the honor and the privilege recently at MSU Extension to work with you on the Cass City Hunger Summit. Tell me a little bit about that.

Addy Battel: So the Cass City Hunger Summit, the idea came as a way to provide for sustainability of the organization. This was, you know, about a year ago when we were saying, okay, next year we're going to be seniors. We're going to be leaving after that. What are we going to do?

The Cass City Hunger Summit came up as a way to get our community thinking about the problems in Cass City. You know, they'd seen Meating The Need For Our Village grow up from its infancy and change these things, but to really explore the deeper problems. So we found out that our community is really engaged around getting a grocery store to Cass City, getting a community garden to Cass City, and to know that that's what the community values, gives Meating The Need For Our Village more focus behind how to help them do what they want to do so that we can continue to foster that community support.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, it's very impressive. So Pearl, as a result of all of the amazing things you both are doing now but have been doing now for several years, you each were invited to participate in the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute. So what has that experience been like?

Pearl Daskam: The World Food Prize Global Youth Institute was one of my favorite trips that I've ever done. One of my favorite, I guess, competitions, you could call it I guess. It was such an amazing experience. I got to research and write a paper about sustainable agriculture on American Samoa and I had the opportunity to go as a freshman in high school, which is crazy. I met so many amazing people there and I learned so much from that experience as well as from the Michigan Youth Institute here at MSU as well. I've gained so many skills through that experience that I continued to use those skills in my everyday life. It was truly incredible. I don't think words can describe how amazing it is.

Jeff Dwyer: Addy, do you have anything to add to that?

Addy Battel: World Food Prize is a life-changing experience. It really is. It's, you know, of course we've had a passion for food insecurity locally since we started Meating The Need For Our Village in 2014 but the World Food Prize is what really showed me that I can take skills that I have and am acquiring in my life and through 4-H and apply them to broader agricultural issues and food security around the globe. And having that experience at such a young age has really sparked my passion to continue doing so for the rest of my life.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, that's terrific. So by this point in your life, 17-18 years old, you've already accomplished so much and you know, we're proud of you. I know that you're proud of what you've accomplished and certainly your families are too. But what does the future look like? Let's start with you Addy.

Addy Battel: So I've actually just been accepted here to MSU. I want to get my four-year degree in animal science. I'm looking into minors that will equip me with international development, food-security type work. I tell people I don't know yet if that will bring me working alongside subsistence farmers in the developing world on sustainability practices, if I hope for it to have me on Capitol Hill doing policy-making type work. But I know that wherever I end up anywhere in there, I'll be happy as long as I'm getting food to people who need it through animal ag.

Jeff Dwyer: Well, and maybe the right place is working in MSU Extension. (Laughs.) Something you know a great deal about from your family. So Pearl, what's next for you?

Pearl Daskam: From my work with Meeting The Need For Our Village and the World Food Prize, I really found an interest in nutrition and so I hope to study health science and nutrition with the end goal of becoming a registered dietitian. As for what college I'll attend, I'm kind of all over the board. I'm accepted into Central Michigan University, but my family is from out west and I'm accepted into the University of Wyoming. So I'm not sure which direction I'll go yet, but yeah, I'm really excited. My end goal would be to become a registered dietician and hopefully work for a food bank. So.

Jeff Dwyer: That's very exciting. And Pearl, I would be remiss if I didn't also point out that we hire a number of registered dietitians at MSU Extension.

Pearl Daskam: Good to know. I'll keep that in mind.

Jeff Dwyer: So you need to keep that in mind and internships, summer employment, you know, all of those kinds of things. So let me ask you one last question and let me say it's really been a privilege for me to have the chance to talk to both of you today.

Let me start with you, Addy. What advice would you give to other young people out there who want to tackle big problems but aren't sure how to do it or where to get help to do it?

Addy Battel: My number one advice is that you can't do things about things that don't tug at your heartstrings. So find those things that you really are passionate about. You know, maybe it's something that makes you really sad. Maybe it's something that makes you really happy, keeps you up at night, makes you really angry. Personally, it makes me very angry how much food insecurity there is in the world so that's the problem that I've chosen to tackle.

So first start by picking something you're passionate about and whether you know it or not, you do have skills. There are things you're good at and I'm sure you are well aware of the things you're not so good at. So find people in your life that can help balance those things you're not so good at and together tackle those things that make you passionate.

Jeff Dwyer: That's great advice. Pearl, what would you add to that?

Pearl Daskam: Yeah, I think like Addy said, knowing your unique skills that you have is really important. When we started Meating The Need For Our Village, we had no idea how big it was going to be. We started out by it was something that we could do to help have a positive impact in our community and it's just grown so much, which is very exciting.

Yeah, it's really important to, if there's something that you're interested in and something that you would like to get involved in, I think my best advice would be to just go for it, try it, use those unique skills that you've been given and have a positive impact in your community and who knows, your project might then turn into a nonprofit. Who knows? That could happen. But yeah, that has to be my biggest advice.

Jeff Dwyer: It's incredible advice. Thank you. And maybe we can also remind youth who may be thinking about big issues and things they're passionate abou  t that if they're not already involved in 4-H that we have over 200,000 youth involved in 4-H across the state of Michigan. We have programs in every single county in the state and as you two prove, and we're very proud of, the opportunity for learning leadership skills and having these kinds of opportunities is really quite remarkable.

This is Partnerships and Peninsulas. My name is Jeff Dwyer, and I have the privilege of being the director of Michigan State University Extension. Addy and Pearl, thank you so much for joining me today and we wish you all the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Pearl Daskam: Thank you so much. Yeah, thank you for all the help.

Addy Battel: Thanks for having us. I want to echo that we definitely wouldn't be where we are today without 4-H and Extension.