DeKalb teen attends Ag Innovators conference

DeKALB – Jaylene Jennings of DeKalb recently traveled to Washington, D.C. to learn about aquaculture and to receive training to help lead the 2014 4-H Ag Innovators Experience. 4-H youth leaders from eight states, including Illinois, participated in the training at the National 4-H Youth Conference Center from March 21-23.

The 2014 4H Ag Innovators Experience makes agriscience relevant and fun for youth, and helps young people develop the professional skills needed to meet rising global demand for food. The 2014 Experience will engage teen leaders across Illinois to lead thousands of youth in an interactive agriscience activity. 

The training kicked off with a “hunger banquet,” in which participants were randomly placed in three separate groups: low-income, middle-income and high-income. Each group received an amount of food proportionate to their assigned level of income, highlighting different levels of food availability. After the hunger banquet, everyone received a full dinner and moved on to collaborative team-building activities.

Participants learned about the importance of the aquaculture industry from Laura Tiu, aquaculture extension specialist at Ohio State University. Tiu suggested that aquaculture, or fish farming, is one way to provide a healthy, protein-rich diet that is sustainable and affordable. 

“Aquaculture plays a role in feeding the growing world population, and solving the seafood deficit in the U.S.,” Tiu said. “Nearly 90 percent of the seafood we consume in America is imported, which amounts to almost $11 billion. Any economic changes in the countries we import from can reduce our supply of seafood, and that’s a food security issue.”

The group visited the Maine Avenue Fish Market in Washington, D.C. to see a commercial retail fish market in action. Afterwards, the group visited several monuments.

Upon their return to the conference center, participants broke into groups and worked on the main event: the Fish Farm Challenge. They engineered a food-distribution system that evenly dispenses soy-based fish food pellets over a paper mat representing a fish farm tank.

“Monsanto and 4-H teamed up to create the 4-H Ag Innovators Experience to encourage youth to learn more about STEM-related careers, and to create a unique opportunity that fosters teamwork,” said Elizabeth Vancil, customer advocacy outreach manager for the Monsanto Company. “It is our hope that project participants emerge from this experience with an increased knowledge about global food security, and with an interest to ensure the long term health and growth of the agriculture industry.”

In April and May, Jennings will share the activity with other teen leaders throughout Illinois. These teen leaders will then implement the activity with at least 1,000 youth in June. Participants can compete in a video contest to demonstrate potential applications in their communities. Four winners will be chosen, and each will receive a $2,500 award.

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