On your mark, get set, create! This November, 100 delegates aged 18 to 25 from 45 countries descended on Brasília, Brazil, to attend the Youth Ag Summit (YAS) — and began to harvest. Not crops, mind you, but ideas — big ideas. This Bayer initiative is where tomorrow’s leaders design and incubate solutions for today’s hungry planet.
From November 4 to 6, 2019, YAS participants collaborated and acted on the United Nations’ sustainable development goals while leveraging 21st century agricultural solutions. Attendees dreamed up “three little things,” a set of personal objectives to tangibly chip away at upon their return home. In addition, all were able to work on projects during and after the Summit to turn their dreams of how to feed a hungry planet into reality.
This year, five Canadians were selected from a diverse range of backgrounds and disciplines to rub shoulders and lock minds with passionate peers destined to make a difference.
One of those delegates was Leah Davidson of Sherbrooke, Québec. She is a 2016 business graduate from the storied Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania and a quintessential social change maker.
The 25-year-old has dedicated the majority of her life to creating and devising start-ups intended to improve the human condition. For the last year she has worked abroad in Peru and Chile. In those countries she set up microfinancing for rural communities and created business incubators, helping would-be and existing business owners succeed in their line of work. Other times it was giving students practical work experience to find employment.
“I’ve always been interested in food security issues, international development and food technology,” says Davidson. “I’m interested in the entire supply chain.”
The young entrepreneur has launched five different start-ups within the last seven years, and she was tickled at the idea of being in a room of like-minded individuals at YAS.
“For me, it was an opportunity to see what people were working on and see what we may be able to continue on a larger level or start some new projects,” she says. “When we come up with a solution, we want it to be scalable across countries, cultures and climates, and that’s the unique thing that having such a diverse group provides.”
Davidson herself has a unique background. She and her two younger sisters were adopted from China. All her experiences, including travel to 45 different countries (Brazil was stamp No. 45), have imbued in her a sense of social responsibility and underscore the importance of using her position in life for altruistic purposes.
“Now we can do so much more with new technologies that are available,” she says. “That matches to some of my strengths in business and in the tech industry. Because of my travels, I’ve been able to put faces to the people.” And it’s been those experiences that’s prompted Davidson to dedicate her life to making a positive social impact.
Just one example is Project DASH, a micro-project within the meal delivery service, DoorDash. She launched the program in Boston, Washington D.C., and Northern Virginia, connecting restaurants with local shelters by leveraging DoorDash’s logistics platform. Within two years of its launch, Project DASH diverted more than one million pounds of food from trash to table.
Davidson’s friend Kelcie Miller-Anderson also punched her ticket to YAS. The pair met in 2016 at Next 36, a Canadian entrepreneurial accelerator. Miller-Anderson was also thrilled to attend YAS
While there she made connections and continued to develop her idea, BumbleChain.
While watching the Netflix documentary series Rotten, the 25-year-old Calgary resident learned how honey laundering is big business and how legitimate producers often feel the sting, losing out to second-rate products containing cheap, blended honey or other non-honey syrups. She immediately knew the answer to this conundrum: Blockchain.
“I had enough background to know the applications of Blockchain and what people were already doing with the technology,” she says. “It was such a simple solution to the problem, it didn’t make sense to not do it.”
Blockchain is an incorruptible digital ledger where users may publicly view the status of economic transactions, from the moment they appear in the ledger. Agriculture has recently realized Blockchain’s potential, too. The technology has successfully been used to trace the source of food-borne illnesses and track commodity-sized shipping vessels.
With 99 other sharp minds in Brazil, Miller-Anderson’s goal was to connect with others who were interested in the principles of BumbleChain and could help broaden it to a global context. “I was looking for people I could collaborate with to bring this technology to the industry within their own country,” says Miller-Anderson, who has been working in labs since age 13.
The bright-eyed Albertan doesn’t just have one idea either, oh no. She, like many delegates, has dreamed up many novel solutions to various problems. For instance, hailing from a province where oil and gas reigns, Miller-Anderson wanted to create a simple, natural solution at reclamation sites.
At 15, she started researching the biological properties of various fungi and how particular enzymes within the organisms breaks down heavy industry hydrocarbons. Through the mycelium’s root- like underground structures, fungi utilize enzymes to gobble up unhealthy contaminants.
She enjoyed talking about her ideas with like-minded participants at YAS and believes such a gathering helps foster a new generation of innovators. “YAS gives that opportunity to say, I might be young or not (have) the expected level of experience, but that doesn’t mean you can’t contribute in solving some of these big global challenges,” she says.
Even though delegates are in the starting blocks, they’re already well on their way to accomplishing their goal: making hunger past tense.
The Youth Ag Summit took place November 4-6, 2019, in Brasília, Brazil. Along with Davidson and Miller-Anderson, the other Canadian delegates who attended the Summit were: Emmett Sawyer, Grace Heuver and Karly Rumpel. FF
For more information, follow on social @youthagsummit or visit youthagsummit.com
2019 Canadian Youth Ag Summit Delegates
Below are the other three YAS Canadian delegates who joined Leah Davidson and Kelcie Miller-Anderson in Brasilia, Brazil, November 4-6, 2019.
Studying to be an agronomist
President of University of Guelph Food Talk
Idea: uCanYQR. Developed for low-income households where grocers donate soon-to-be discarded fresh food that can’t be sold. Volunteers can the food to preserve it then donate the preserves to shelters and food banks. The seeds from the donated food will be used to grow in a community garden, giving back the produce to those who need it most.
From Strathmore, AB
ME to WE organization member
Ag for Life education symposium participant
Idea: Low impact rabbit urban farming. Hopes to bridge the gap between loss of agricultural income in developing nations due to urbanization. This alternative food source requires zero pasture space. One buck and two does can produce up to 100 lbs. of meat per year.
From Acme, AB
4-H Alberta Ambassador
University of Lethbridge Agricultural Student Society L.E.A.D. Agriculture and Sustainability Scholar
Idea: Develop elevated rooftop gardens in urban areas using PVC piping, mesh screens, rainwater and solar powered battery pumps to grow food.