The World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute

The Michigan State University Extension World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute brings together young people to discuss global food security and access, and explore possible career paths.

May 22, 2018

Makena Scultz, Reagan Gembarski and Kraig Ehm at the The Michigan State University Extension World Food Prize.

The Michigan State University Extension World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute brings together young people to discuss global food security and access, and explore possible career paths.

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In the Field: The World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute - Transcript

Kraig Ehm: Welcome to In the Field, a podcast originating from the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at Michigan State University. I'm your host, Kraig Ehm. In this episode of In the Field, I'm joined by Makena Schultz, Youth Leadership and Civic Engagement Educator for Michigan State University Extension, and Raegan Gembarski, 2015 Michigan Global Youth Institute delegate and current World Food Prize Steering Committee member. Thanks for joining me.

Makena Schultz: Thanks so much for having us.

Raegan Gembarski: We're happy to be here.

Ehm: Makena, what exactly is the World Food Prize?

Schultz: Well, that's a great question. The World Food Prize and how we interact with it is actually three things. There is the World Food Prize Foundation, which is a National organization that awards the World Food Prize, which is an actual prize that's awarded annually to an individual who is working in food advocacy, food research, to solve global food insecurities and find solutions to food access problems. We here at MSU, Michigan State, are hosting the World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute, so the World Food Prize is our National partner, and we host the Michigan Youth Institute as a youth leadership and global citizenship program that helps young people in the State of Michigan get involved in this conversation about global food security, and helps us select delegates to represent the State of Michigan at the World Food Prize's National Conference, the Global Youth Institute. That is actually the role that Raegan has served for us last year, was being one of Michigan's delegates.

Ehm: Let me ask you this. Why is global food security and access an important area to study?

Schultz: It's an excellent question. I think it's one of the most vital areas of study, actually, nowadays, because we're talking about, in the next 20 to 35 years, our global population growing to be between 9 and 10 billion people which is a huge amount of growth. The question is how do we make sure that all those people are fed and adequately nourished so that they can contribute to the global society or community?

Schultz: The World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute helps young people be engaged in that conversation because they're leaders and, hopefully, will be developing solutions to the problem and, really, we're looking at 20 to 35 years from now. It's their generation that's really going to hold this burden really heavily, so we're trying to get them involved from the ground up.

Ehm: In a few years the youth of today are going to be the leaders of tomorrow. Is that why it's so critical to get youth involved?

Schultz: You know, I would argue that youth today have great leadership capacities, and that it's just that they need the right support, and tools, and opportunities, to step up and be those leaders. I think it's critical to get young people involved while they're in high school, so they're thinking about global issues. The world is becoming more and more interconnected, and so the decisions that we make here in Lansing, Michigan, have a much broader impact than just Lansing, Michigan. Helping young people develop a critical consciousness about these complex issues, I think helps plant a seed, if I may, for them being passionate about solving some of these, what we call wicked, problems. You know these problems, that don't really have a linear solution, that take people working across disciplines, a lot of cooperation to solve. As these young people finish high school and go to college, for them to be thinking about global food security and how many different careers or courses of study could be taken to impact global food security, it's just such a diverse selection of opportunities. We're trying to raise awareness of those opportunities, and get young people excited about these changes that, hopefully, they'll be making for us in the future.

Ehm: This is an issue that's not going to go away.

Schultz: Definitely not. It's only going to continue getting more challenging.

Ehm: Raegan, why did you participate in 2015?

Gembarski: Well, I'm very heavily involved in FFA, and last year I was selected to be a regional officer, and as a regional officer you go to camp, and that's a leadership camp for regional officers that's put on by the State Association. Lorne King, who was a Global Youth Institute delegate two years ago did a speech about the World Food Prize. He said if you had any questions or you wanted to learn more about his experiences, to give him a call, so I gave him a call. He sent me the link to the the next year's World Food Prize, and I signed up. It was a problem that you can't ignore. Being in FFA you have a passion for agriculture and wanting to help the world in any way that you can. That was my way that I saw for me to be able to help.

Ehm: What country did you choose, and what did you learn?

Gembarski: I did my paper on Jamaica and sustainable agriculture in Jamaica. I can't even describe to you what I learned. Previously, I've been to Jamaica twice, and when you go to Jamaica all you see are the touristy areas, and you don't see the problem. When I was going through the program, and they have all the different options for the countries that you can do, and I saw Jamaica and being that I had been there before, that was like why is this even on there? There's nothing wrong with this country. And then I did more studying, and there are more problems than I can even name, and that really, really meant something to me.

Ehm: What did it mean to you to represent Michigan at last year's Global Institute at Des Moines, Iowa.

Gembarski: Being selected to go to Iowa was a life-changing experience for me. Being a part of something bigger than myself is something that is also really important to me. That's also why I'm so heavily involved in FFA. When I went to Iowa, and I went to the World Food Prize, there were 300 of us. 300 people of the kids that all had the same goal. It's empowering when you're in a room with 300 other youth that want to change the world. It makes you feel really good about yourself because you know that you can make a difference, and that was really important to me.

Ehm: Some people your age probably spend their summers and their free time doing fun exercises, fun activities, and things. This is something that's a little more important, maybe, in the grand scale of life.

Gembarski: Yeah, it certainly is. Sitting down and writing a paper for two weeks, some kids might not see that as fun, and textbook definition, it isn't fun, but like I said, it's empowering. It makes you feel like you're making a difference.

Ehm: Makena, how does this competition work?

Schultz: So Raegan outlined some of the basic pieces of how the World Food Price Michigan Youth Institute works, so in advance of coming to our one-day, on-campus event, youth who register are asked to write a two to five page research paper. The guidelines for that research paper include selecting a country from a long list of developing nations, as well as one of 20 food security factors. These factors basically help us describe and understand how complex the challenge of global food security actually is. Lots of people, when they think about food systems or food in general, they think of agriculture, and the very linear agriculture system, so a producer, packaging, transportation, marketing and sales. But when it comes to global food security and food access, there are so many other things that play into that. We're talking about things like infrastructure, war and peace, public health, water quality, gender and equality. There are so many things that impact a country's ability to maintain food access and food security. So the paper really is our way of helping young people connect to the complexity of the problem, and it's also a way to loop in youth who may not self-identify as being interested in global food security. A great example might be that I as a young person would have been really interested in women and gender equality issues, and maybe less interested in global food security, so I might have been really excited to write a paper that focused on women and gender equality issues, and the World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute offers a lens for young people to do that. They can explore their passions through the lens of global food security, which is really exciting. Then they come here to campus for a one-day event, and they present their papers to round tables. They give a presentation and the people around the table include peers, other participants who are there who also give presentations, as well as MSU faculty members, community-based experts, 4H facilitators, and then this year we were very excited to add youth experts to our round table panelists, and those were last year's Global Youth Institute delegates, so Raegan was actually able to serve in the youth expert role in round tables this year. They give their presentation, and then they are asked questions, and there's dialogue and discussion around the paper and the possible solutions that they had envisioned. Also, during the day they visit with department representatives from a variety of places on campus at Michigan State to reinforce the idea that there are lots of ways that you could tackle this problem from lots of different disciplines, and hopefully get people excited about what's happening here at MSU. We do that also through immersion visits. This year we have young people visiting the MSU Museum for an exhibit on a robotic fish that tests for water quality. We've got young people going to the anaerobic digester, and we have young people visiting our Potato Genetics and Breeding Program. Lots of different approaches to things that all impact global food security. Then we wrap up the day with a panel of experts. That concludes the Michigan Youth Institute. We actually select the delegates to represent Michigan at the Global Youth Institute, so after the Michigan Youth Institute is over, there are a panel of people from the World Food Prize Foundation who score the youth papers, and then the round table experts are asked to score their presentations. We take those two scores in combination to select the youth who will represent Michigan in Iowa for the Global youth Institute in October.

Ehm: Michigan State University is helping to sponsor this event. Why is that so important?

Schultz: It's so important because there are lots of stakeholders connected to MSU who are doing the work. They're the people on the ground doing the work for global food security and food access today. We know that MSU is one of the world's leading universities in food and agriculture work, and we have some really amazing partners making this program happen. In collaboration with the Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, Michigan FFA, Michigan 4H, and Michigan State University Extension, we're able to pull the resources to make this event happen free of cost for you, so it's really an exciting opportunity. It just makes sense for it to happen here at MSU. It makes sense with all the great things that are already happening on this campus, and the great work that's already being done here.

Ehm: Raegan, being involved in the World Food Prize beneficial to you, and if so, why?

Gembarski: It was very beneficial to me, mainly just because I got to see the real issue. Growing up in a farming community, everyone is fed. Everyone is healthy. You don't see the problem. You just kind of hear about it, and global food security is kind of like an out of sight, out of mind kind of thing. Being able to open my eyes to the problem, it really showed me a lot. It showed me that I needed to do something, so that way I could make a difference. It's so empowering. It makes you feel like you're truly doing something.

Ehm: What can you say to other youth that would encourage them to become involved in the World Food Prize?

Gembarski: Well, this year, there's actually five students from my school, I go to North Huron, that decided to come to the World Food Prize, and I told them, if you have any feeling like you would like to help feed the world, this is your opportunity. Don't do it because you want to move on because it sounds good. Do it because you want to move on so you can have that extra step to make that difference.

Ehm: Makena, the World Food Prize is more than just winning an award or a prize, right?

Schultz: Absolutely. Like Raegan has said, in everything that she said about being empowered and feeling inspired to action, makes me feel really good. It makes me feel like the program is successful. For me, it's not remotely anything close to being about an award or a prize. This is about recognizing the amazing capacity of young people in our communities. And when I say communities, I mean local, state wide, national, and international. We are one global community. Getting young people engaged in the conversation, I think it's an opportunity that doesn't get offered to young people very frequently, and it's unfortunate because young people have really innovative ideas. They're very creative. They think outside the box, and very often they come up with great solutions to problems that maybe adults or other members of the community might not see so easily. So bringing young people into this conversation is so important, and then hearing that, through this experience, they are feeling empowered and they're feeling excited and passionate about creating a difference in the world, that's what it's really about for me. It's about igniting that spark in young people to make a difference. And, then, broader than that, it really helps create a system of opportunities for young people to grow as leaders, so here in the Michigan Youth Institute, obviously, they're exercising a lot of skills, they're doing presentations, public speaking, professional networking, a lot of different things they're exercising here, then they go to the Global Youth Institute, and they're interacting with global experts, so they're interacting with diplomats and world leaders, non-government organization chairpeople. Really important people are in the room, and kind of have the ear of young people. That's one more step. By participating in the Michigan Youth Institute alone, just our State Program, young people are eligible to apply for Wallace-Carver Fellowships. They're eligible when they start their college program. Those are USDA paid research internships across the United States. I know when I was in college it was hard to find any internship, period, paid or not paid. So, really exclusive, additional opportunity there, and then for those youth that attended the Global Youth Institute, they're eligible for Borlaug Ruan Fellowships, and those are international research experiences, so they get sent to an international location to work at a research site. As high-schoolers, they're getting paid to do research. It's so exciting, and we are actually really proud that one of our 2015 Global Youth Institute delegates from Michigan got selected for one of those Borlaug Ruan Internships, and will be going to India this summer to do research. So some really amazing, both intrinsic growth experiences happen from here, as well as some opportunities for youth to really further their leadership capacity.

Ehm:  At the end of the day, when you're packing everything up, what do you hope that this has accomplished?

Schultz: At the most basic level, I hope that the young people who have participated in this program know that they can make a difference. That's it. That's my main, main goal. Obviously, I have lots of other goals about skill development, and raising of awareness on these issues but, at the end of the day, if young people leave the World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute knowing that they have the power and capacity to make changes happen, and feel excited about moving forward to make those changes happen, then that's a win for me.

Ehm: I would like to thank Makena Schultz, Youth Leadership and Civic Engagement Educator for Michigan State University Extension, and Raegan Gembarski, 2015 Michigan Global Youth Institute delegate and current World Food Prize Steering Committee member for joining me today. Be sure and listen next time for another episode of In the Field.

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