World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute participants explore global food security issues
On April 29, more than 300 Iowa high school students attended the eighth annual World Food Prize Iowa Youth Institute at Iowa State University, with one goal in mind.
That was to utilize science, technology, engineering and mathematics while exploring critical global food security issues.
Since 2012, the Iowa Youth Institute has been touted as being an innovative event that can inspire Iowa high school students to become global leaders.
For Colin Houts, presenting a research paper at the Iowa Youth Institute made the West High School 10th-grader think outside of the box. “I like math and I like science,” he said. “Initially, I didn’t know how to apply it to food.”
Like all of the participating students, Houts had to identify a challenge affecting food security within a specific country while proposing a solution to address the challenge. After choosing the northern European country of Latvia, he decided to take a page out of American history.
In the late 19th century and early 20th century, many Americans acquired government-owned land or public domain land through the Homestead Acts. If they were willing to farm it, they could have the land.
“I researched Latvia’s population and determined there were people who could farm for a living,” Houts said. “While there was still a need for people in cities, others could help build up the country’s agriculture.” While Latvia has a short growing season, its government tends to be stable.
That isn’t the case with Venezuela, the country that West High 10th-grader Bryan Cruz chose for himself. “Venezuela’s food shortage came from corruption inside the government,” he explained. “If citizens had more control over their food, they’d become less dependent on the government.” That’s why Cruz proposed communal gardens or farms where everybody could enjoy the fruits — and veggies — of their labors.
While Houts used history as a way to address food-related problems and Cruz emphasized the importance of local communities in increasing crops, West High School 12th-grader Beverly Vetzel was inspired by her dad’s home garden.
“Even though my country — the Democratic Republic of the Congo — is located in sub-Saharan Africa, it also gets more annual rain than Seattle,” Vetzel explained. “My dad collects rainwater in barrels for his garden. Why can’t the people in the Democratic Republic of the Congo conserve rainwater on a much larger level?”
Although Vetzel hadn’t considered food science as a career before, attending the Iowa Youth Institute opened her eyes. “It was amazing how science can be used to solve world hunger,” said Vetzel, who will be joining the U.S. Army after graduation.
That was a sentiment shared by Cruz, who wants to someday become a veterinarian.
“When you think of food safety, you think of hunger and that’s it,” he said. “Food crises are caused by many factors that include climate, disease and even corruption.”
While Houts doesn’t know what he’d like to study in college, he knows it will involve science in some way.
“We can help end world hunger through science,” he said.