Michigan Youth Engage in Global Food Access and Food Security Issues


Photo courtesy MSU ANR Communications.  (view larger image)

Photo courtesy MSU ANR Communications.

By Sam Loscalzo, Michigan Good Food Charter Graduate Assistant and Liz Gensler, MSU Center for Regional Food Systems

Imagine being in tenth grade and tackling the looming problem of sustainably producing food for 9 billion people by 2050. No doubt, whatever your age, this sounds like a daunting task. On August 10th, twelve Michigan youth attended the first-ever World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute (WFP MIYI) event to learn about and engage in the related topics of food access, food security and feeding a growing global population.

Through WFP MIYI, Michigan high school students researched one of 20 key global issues surrounding food security and food access in a developing country of their choice. Topics Michigan students chose included improving infrastructure in Ukraine to support farm to market, developing sustainable agriculture in Jamaica, and increasing food security through education and awareness in Yemen.

The day’s activities included a networking lunch with representatives from various Michigan State University (MSU) departments, immersion visits around campus, and a panel discussion of MSU faculty experts facilitated by the 2014 Michigan Global Youth Institute representative Sachin Kumar. In the day’s main event, students presented their findings during roundtable discussions. These discussions consisted of four to five youth and three to four experts.

Makena Schultz and Brian Wibby, MSU Extension 4-H educators and WFP MIYI coordinators, assembled a broad collection of experts for the event. “There are non-profit community groups trying to make headway in providing food security to people in Michigan. There are people at MSU who are doing research about more resilient crops or studying community dynamics in Michigan. We’ve got some Extension people with hands-on experience,” said Schultz. 

Schultz and Wibby wanted multiple perspectives at the table. “There are definitely some people who have contrasting views about the way you should tackle global food access and security” said Schultz.  Despite the diverse views, many of the experts agreed on two key points: there is no “silver bullet” to solving food security or food access and many of these issues involve complex, systemic challenges.

Students came to similar conclusions. Raegan Gembarski stated, “All of our issues are caused by, or do cause, multiple other issues. It is like a chain reaction.”

This complexity did not deter the enthusiasm of the youth. “I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up but I always wanted to make a difference,” said Francine Barchett. “This is something that’s impacting other people.”

Jessica McDaniels added, “It won’t just end here. I’m going to go home and everything that I learned here, whether we go to [the Global Youth Institute] or not, I’ll still have all the knowledge gained from the paper that I can use to do other things.”

Six participants from the local WFP MIYI have been selected to attend the Global Youth Institute in Iowa as Michigan youth delegates. There, youth delegates will interact with Nobel and World Food Prize Laureates, discuss food security and food access issues with international experts, have the opportunity to engage in community-based projects and apply to prestigious paid internships.

Schultz plans to continue expanding WFP MIYI and get more youth excited and involved, “I feel like that’s the only way we can tackle these big problems, is to get young people involved.  Let’s engage them and help them develop the skill set and make some professional connections; you’d be amazed at the caliber they can contribute to a community.”


Want to learn more about…

  • Dr. Norman E. Borlaug: Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and founder of World Food Prize and Global Youth Institute


  • World Food Prize Michigan Youth Institute


  • Global Youth Institute


  • World Food Prize