The next generation of U.S. agricultural know-how

“The American heartland is vibrant with economic potency,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told an audience in Des Moines, Iowa, on March 4.

Pompeo credits the agricultural sector’s economic power to the freedom Americans have to be creative, to “decades of ingenuity which have enabled our farmers to produce harvests at levels the world would have been astounded by just a few years ago.”

To foster this creativity, 4-H, the country’s largest youth-development organization, recognizes young people who have used agriculture to make a difference in their community with annual 4-H Youth in Action Awards.

When it was founded more than 100 years ago, 4-H gave youth in rural parts of America the chance to introduce agriculture technology to their communities. Today, it continues to help young people grow into leaders.

In 2019, the award for agriculture will be given to Addy Battel, a 17-year-old in Cass City, Michigan. When the only grocery store in Cass City closed a few years ago, the town became a “food desert,” with 25 kilometers between residents and the nearest store.

Battel wanted to help. “I didn’t have a job or a car, or even a driver’s license,” she said, “but one thing I did know how to do was raise animals.”

Two women talking with bags of food between them (© 4-H Council)
Addy Battel and her friends work to get food to needy families following the closure of the only grocery store in Cass City, Michigan. (© 4-H Council)

Battel founded Meeting the Need for Our Village, a youth-led project that provides food to low-income families.

“Through 4-H I was able to discover my passion at an early age,” Battel said, “which is getting food to people who need it through animal agriculture.” To date, her organization has contributed over 4,500 kilograms of meat, 5,100 liters of milk and 92 dozen eggs to the members of the community who need it most.

About 1,600 kilometers away in Oklahoma, 17-year-old Serena Woodard is using the skills she developed in 4-H to teach younger students across the state about agriculture.

Her program, called Woodard’s Workshops, allows Oklahoma’s youth to discover the world of agriculture. Workshops cover everything from beekeeping and animal science to simple gardening. Since the inception of the program, her classes have reached more than 45,000 students.

Teenager helping group of students cutting shapes out of paper (© 4-H Council)
Serena Woodard helps members of a 4-H Club in Pittsburg County, Oklahoma, with a craft project during one of Woodard’s Workshops. (© 4-H Council)

For Woodard, community is everything. Her hometown of Canadian, Oklahoma, is “the kind of place where even people who don’t know you will reach out to help,” she said.

While visiting Iowa and speaking to a youth organization called Future Farmers of America, Pompeo talked about what makes U.S. farmers successful by describing his own uncle’s farm in Winfield, Kansas. It thrived, he said, because his uncle “was operating in a place where there’s innovation and creativity, and where profit can drive people to make good decisions for themselves and in turn for the products that they produce.”

This article was written by freelance writer Maeve Allsup.