By: Mary Sue Vernon
“Selected from among several hundred students around the state at last spring’s Iowa Youth Institute, Kaci Ginn attended the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute October 18-21 in Des Moines, Iowa. She found it a truly life-changing experience.”
World Food Prize – Global Youth Institute 2017
Kaci and I arrived Wednesday night to an energetic and youthful reception at the Holiday Inn Downtown, Des Moines. Just a few blocks away stood the Marriott Hotel where many of the World Food Prize – Global Youth Institute events would take place. We enjoyed a delicious buffet dinner and visited with other students from across the country and their advisors or parents. A photo booth was set up with fun accessories, which Kaci and I donned eagerly to mark the beginning of this life-changing experience for her.
The following morning started with an early breakfast for all the GYI participants and their chaperones. Kelsey Tyrell, World Food Prize Director of Global Education Programs, gave the opening remarks and introduced the guest speaker, Lazarus Lynch. According to the WFP website biography, Lazarus is a 23-year-old Multi-Artist, Host of Comfort Nation on Food Network, and the face behind the popular brand, Son of a Southern Chef. He gained national attention through his high school blog, Keeping-it-Healthy, and was able to intern during his senior year in high school with Food Network. Like his young audience, he also attended the World Food Prize – Global Youth Institute. In addition, he later became a Borlaug-Ruan International Intern recipient in 2011, doing his research in China. His accomplishments since then are too many to note, but he was a captivating, funny, and inspiring speaker. It was a great way to launch the conference for the students.
After breakfast, Kaci left with her group leaders, Nate Bowser (Purdue University) and Rhiannon Cobb (University of Nebraska-Lincoln), along with her fellow high school students, to attend various special activities, including the Borlaug Dialogue. These people would be her constant companions through Saturday, when they presented their papers to each other and their panel experts. For me and other adults attending, the rest of that day and the next were spent attending a series of panel discussions held with world-renowned experts, with opportunities to also browse through dozens of booths set up outside the conference room by various organizations involved in meeting world poverty and food security challenges, such as the USDA’s “My Plate” Initiative and the Breadfruit Institute. I also attended a special professional development session provided for teachers on Friday afternoon.
Luncheons and dinners at the conference allowed opportunities to visit with other students, teachers and parents, as well as hear other keynote speakers, such as Dr. Rajiv Shah (President, Rockefeller Foundation) and, of course, the 2017 WFP Laureate, Dr. Adesina. Kaci and the other students sat with their own groups but were also joined by one or more of the Borlaug Dialogue guest speakers, experts from across the US and around the world. The most memorable dinner and gathering was held at the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates on Thursday night, where students and chaperones watched the WFP Laureate ceremony on big screen TV’s as it unfolded nearby at the State Capitol Building. In a moment of spontaneous celebration, Dr. Adesina and his wife stood up to dance when an African musical group began to perform in his honor. It was genuinely charming and joyful.
During Friday morning’s breakfast at the Marriott Hotel, Kaci was selected to sit among the laureates and diplomats close to the stage where the keynote address was made by the Chairman and CEO of John Deere, Samuel Allen. Following breakfast Kaci and her fellow GYI delegates attended the Land O’Lakes Emerging Leaders Panel at the Wellmark YMCA where they interacted with interns from Land O’Lakes Global Food Challenge which challenges college age students to pioneer solutions and innovations to help Land O’Lakes feed the growing global population by the year 2050. After the panel, the GYI delegates donned aprons and hairnets to help package meals with Outreach Inc. to be sent to Puerto Rico as disaster relief. The students packaged over 25,000 meals in just over 45 minutes.
The Oxfam Hunger Banquet on Friday night was another impressive event that chaperones were invited to participate in along with the student groups. Each person received a designation upon entering the banquet hall. You were either among the lucky few dozen who sat at a table and were served a three course meal, or you were in the middle group who sat in chairs and had enough food (rice and beans) but hovered perilously on the edge of poverty, or in the large group who sat on the floor and received a handful of rice with a bean or two mixed in. Interestingly, most everyone in the US would fit into the “bountiful group.” Buying and selling scenarios, sudden changes in fortune, and spontaneous begging at the bountiful tables, caused some mix and flow throughout the meal, adding interest and tension. The divisions were based on world-wide figures on poverty and food access. This is always an eye-opener for students and adults, alike. I got to sit at a table to eat plentifully. Kaci sat on the floor with her handful of rice.
The highlight of the conference was Saturday at the Dupont Pioneer facility in Johnston, Iowa. Borlaug-Ruan International Interns displayed their research on posters, and many donned native dress from the countries in which they were fortunate to be able to live and research the previous summer. Kaci and I browsed the many posters and talked with a number of the interns. Then, she joined the other students, many now her friends, for the welcoming remarks in the auditorium. Dr. Adesina, who rose out of poverty through education, addressed the students again. One funny story he liked to repeat was of his father’s visit to the United States after Dr. Adesina’s own son received his medical degree. Dr. Adesina, the WFP Laureate, earned both his Master’s (1985) and Ph.D. (1988) in Agricultural Economics at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Still, his father had originally wished for him to become a medical doctor. So, his father requested to see “Dr. Adesina, the medical doctor,” instead of “Dr. Adesina, the PhD in Agriculture.” After dinner was the reply because, of course, food still comes before medicine. Dr. Adesina took great pleasure in this funny, anecdotal story highlighting the overarching importance of agriculture to humanity.
Next, were the student presentation roundtables. Three assigned experts attended Kaci’s session: Dr. Gail Nonnecke, Iowa State University; Dr. Madhura Swaminathan, Swaminathan Foundation, and Dr. Zhenling Cui, the 2017 Borlaug Field Award Winner. Each student took notes on the presentations, ready to ask a question of another student and discuss the issues, if asked. After Kaci’s own well-prepared, professional presentation, she answered a question from one of her peers. The experts shared with Kaci their positive comments about her paper on using sanitation strategies to generate fertilizer for soil replenishment in Haiti, as well as adding suggestions for furthering her research into other forms of compost generation and how to address some of the challenges of the technology she highlighted. The atmosphere was respectful and business-like, but also relaxed and supportive. To have one’s work come under the scrutiny of experts of this magnitude takes tremendous personal fortitude and self-confidence. Kaci was fully engaged and open to discussion of her work. Like the others, she wants to contribute something of significance, and this is an important path to reach that goal.
The last events we attended were the more detailed power point presentations of the Borlaug-Ruan International Interns and Wallace-Carver Fellows, held after lunch Saturday. Kaci particularly wanted to attend the presentations by her group leaders, Nate and Rhiannon. Nate did his BR Intern research in Brazil, whereas Rhiannon had worked as a WC Fellow in Washington, D.C. I know their experiences showed Kaci the greater depths and heights to which having attended the World Food Prize conference and the Global Youth Institute could perhaps take her, if she continues with the next steps toward participation in this greater dialogue on food security and poverty.
As of my last conversation with Kaci, she was definitely planning to apply for one of the positions as a Borlaug-Ruan International Intern for next summer. She has also been accepted to the University of Iowa and to the College of Public Health. Kaci is thinking a career in Medicine, perhaps as a Physician’s Assistant, and/or in Public Health, could pave the way for her to make a difference on an international level. This is the amazing impact that extracurricular academic experiences can have on a student’s life. I am humbly grateful she let me come along for the ride. It’s been an amazing experience!
Congratulations, Kaci! You once again did yourself, your family, Anamosa High School, Olin, and all of Jones County proud!
I want to thank Kaci Ginn for helping ensure this summary was complete and an accurate account of the events we experienced. I also want to thank the World Food Prize website for providing details concerning names, histories, and credentials. Though Kaci and I experienced it all first hand, I could never have remembered all the little details. Their Guidebook app and the main website have all this and more. Check it out! https://www.worldfoodprize.org/
-submitted by Mrs. Vernon