Three up-and-coming Albertans were among 100 young global leaders who met in Brasilia, Brazil, to discuss sustainable solutions to feeding the planet.
Grace Heuver, Emmett Sawyer and Kelcie Miller-Anderson were chosen to attend last month’s Bayer Youth Ag Summit — a biannual event that brings together youth aged 18 to 25 to discuss and develop sustainable agricultural solutions.
“It was a great opportunity to meet people from all over the world who have the same passion as I do, who really want to feed a growing population by the year 2050,” said Sawyer, 19, who heard about the inaugural summit when it was held in Calgary six years ago.
In order to attend, applicants had to develop a project that met a minimum of three of the United Nations’ sustainable development goals — and then present it in a three-minute video.
Sawyer, who grew up on a mixed farm near Acme, pitched a rooftop garden kit that could be installed atop malls and warehouses.
But after attending the summit, he changed his idea.
His concept now uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to create a perfect environment for growing crops in greenhouses.
“When you want to grow tomatoes, you just download an app and click tomatoes and then it will create the perfect environment for the temperature, and how often the crop needs to be watered,” he said.
Sawyer, who is finishing his degree in agricultural enterprise management program at the University of Lethbridge, plans to continue refining his project. But because of the conference, he now wants to work abroad after he graduates.
“I will be leaving Canada with hopes of working in an agriculture company outside Canada, because I just believe that’s how I am going to gain that different perspective,” he said.
He was impressed by his fellow attendees who are working on solutions to solve agricultural problems in developing countries.
Miller-Anderson’s project on blockchain for honey purity — selected as one of the top six — led her to becoming one of Bayer’s youth ambassadors. In that role, she will be networking, advocating for agriculture, and will attend Bayer’s Future Farming Dialogue in 2020.
“Everybody eats honey, but most people don’t realize that a lot of honey sold today is not truly honey,” said the 25-year-old Calgarian who recently completed a general sciences degree at the University of Alberta.
“A lot of it is fake and it has been adulterated and cut with non-honey syrups to increase the volumes of honey.”
Adulterated honey has flooded into markets like Canada’s, pushing down prices — sometimes below the cost of production.
Miller-Anderson’s project is an app using blockchain and RFID to both track honey through supply chains and give consumers details about their honey, including who produced it and where. She’s heading to New Zealand in January to test her app on Manuka honey. She then hopes to head to China, and test the app again in Alberta in the summer.
Like her other Alberta attendees, Miller-Anderson was inspired by the conference and people she met.
“When you think about agriculture and anything related to the environment, it’s something that we really have to collaborate on,” she said. “It (the conference) really builds those relationships early on. These are 99 other people who I will continue working with in the future.”
Heuver, 18, grew up on a turf farm in Strathmore and is taking a gap year after graduating from high school. She has always been interested in agriculture, and has been heavily involved with 4-H. Her project focused on how to grow rabbits for meat in an urban area.
“In North America, rabbits are more seen as pets, but there’s a lot of buzz around them because they are such a nutritious food source,” she said. “They have a higher protein content than both beef and pork. They require so little space that you can easily raise them in your backyard.”
Heuver began raising rabbits in 2016, but found there was little husbandry information online. She began creating an outline for an online course on raising rabbits in a backyard.
At the summit, each participant was placed in a group with nine other people working in a similar field. Heuver found herself in the urban agriculture group.
“We spoke about our projects and bounced ideas off each other and brainstormed a bit,” she said. “My idea improved 110 per cent from getting there on the Monday to the Thursday.”
After participating in the summit, Heuver realized her idea had a lot of potential. She is still not sure if she is going to pursue it, because she is young and it is a huge undertaking. But the conference opened her up to the possibility of a career that could combine agriculture and science.
“I knew that when I graduated high school that I was interested in science, and biology in particular,” said Heuver. “But because of my small world view of what agriculture is, I didn’t see a space to be a scientist and work in agriculture. After the summit, I learned that those are not mutually exclusive things. I met a lot of delegates who were doing master’s degrees and PhDs in biotechnology, biology and bioengineering, and all of these people were by definition scientists, and were also interested in agriculture.”
The summit was “a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she said.
“Sustainable ag is not going to be an easy, one-method thing to find a solution for, but there are so many people around the world who have different, diverse ideas. Even if it is not an easy fix, there is still a lot of hope in the future that it will become a reality.”