When Addy Battel was 12 years old — like most her age — she wasn’t working a job, didn’t have a driver’s license and had little money. Yet she still wanted to do something for her community, which had become a food desert.
By USDA definition, a food desert is when a grocery store is not located within 10 miles. For Cass City, Mich., it’s closer to 15 miles, making it even more difficult to access food.
“Without the time, gas money or the means to get there, the only other food option for consumers are dollar stores, which generally lack nutrient dense foods, such as fresh meat and milk,” Battel says.
She teamed up with three other 4-H/farm kids from her community. “If it’s one thing farm kids know how to do, it’s raise food,” she says.
They formed “Meating the Need for Our Village,” a program designed to combat food insecurity in the community. It has since grown exponentially.
Battel, 16, recently was awarded the National Youth in Action Pillar award for agriculture, the second Michigan youth to win the honor. Battel will receive a $5,000 college scholarship and will serve as an advocate and spokesperson for 4-H agriculture programming. Nate Seese, a 4-H’er from Kent County, was Michigan’s first agriculture pillar winner, receiving the award in 2012.
She will officially be recognized as the 2019 4-H Youth in Action Pillar winner for agriculture, sponsored by Bayer, on March 12 at the 10th annual 4-H Legacy Awards in Washington, D.C. She is joined by three other 2019 Youth in Action Pillar winners, Clyde Van Dyke of New York (STEM); Elisabeth Watkins of California (Healthy Living); and Mason McClintock of Georgia (Civic Engagement).
Battel, who is 4-H president for the Cows and Clover Club and community service officer for the 4-H Boots and Bling Club, as well as Cass City FFA president and Region III FFA district representative, took her hunger relief idea to the national FFA Foundation. The project received a $2,500 grant. Soon broiler chickens, raised by 4-Hers and FFA members, were on their way to providing high-quality protein for local food pantry clients.
The grant required research, which revealed that 17% of the community was food insecure at the time. “That really sparked a passion for me,” Battel says. “That was a truly quantifiable need, and there was something we could do about it.”
They reached out to local service clubs through meetings and posters. They walked out with cash donations, a couple piglets and 15 bags of chicken feed promised to the project. In mere months, they had doubled the grant.
Meating the Need for Our Village has made a $54,000 impact through 1,500 gallons of milk and 10,000 pounds of meat and 90 dozen eggs.
Now, several 4-H members are raising animals, which often are bought at the fair and donated back to the project. “The community is very supportive,” Battel says.
Eggs for the project are being raised at the school barn in Cass City, while Battel says, “broiler chickens are her thing.”
She’s particularly proud to be able to supply milk, which normally is not readily available, to the pantries. Dairy Farmers of America has stepped up with funding and, along with individual dairy farmer donations, the program is able to buy milk from Country View at a discounted rate.
“While the goal is to provide low-income members of the community with high-quality protein, the real scope is much larger than that,” Battel says. “The true impact has come in our intangible impact on the community, especially youth. My personal goal has been to empower youth to be the change they want to see in the world. The 200 youth who have been involved in this project have seen their efforts can truly make a difference.”
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Battel, the daughter of Bob and Sue, has seen firsthand the effects of hunger. Her adopted brothers, Asher, 10, and Elias, 8, both come from biological families affected by poverty and malnutrition. Elias was removed from his mother at birth and suffered from fetal alcohol syndrome. He was placed with the Battels when he was 19 days old. Asher, who is nonverbal, came to the family at 3 years old. Both have autism.
“There are lifelong effects from malnutrition,” Battel says. “It’s a huge reason for the work I do. You would think seven years of plenty would erase three years of poverty,” Battel says of Asher, “but, it doesn’t.”
Battel quickly realized that exposure to animals sparked a change in them. “For both of my brothers, animals are very powerful and almost therapeutic,” she adds. “Elias struggles with behavioral episodes, and exposure to animals helps calm him.”
Although her family lives on just a 1-acre hobby farm, agriculture and 4-H are deeply rooted in her family’s history. 4-H can be traced back to her great-grandparents on her dad’s side, all her grandparents, aunts, uncles and many cousins.
In 4-H, Battel’s a self-proclaimed dabbler. Others might see it as adventurous or fearless, as she’s shown just about every animal except for horses and llamas.
“I’ve had pigs, dairy cattle and feeder steers, goats, lambs, rabbits and poultry,” she says. “But goats are my favorite.” She’s also competed in a full lineup of still projects, such as sewing and baking.
Battel’s participation through 4-H in the World Food Prize Global Youth Institute is what showed her global opportunities to fight hunger. “I look forward to studying dairy science and international development at Michigan State University,” she says. “Whether that means I’ll do research in the developing world or create policy in Washington, D.C., I don’t know yet, but I’m excited to see where life takes me because 4-H showed me I can.”
The original members of the founding group included Battel, Pearl Daskam, Shane Auten and Ethan Healy, who were all members of Boots and Bling 4-H Club and Cass City Jr. High FFA. Since then, Battel and Daskam have taken over as co-founders, as the others went on to pursue other projects.
“Together, Pearl and I have learned to balance each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Battel says. “I’m a big-picture thinker, an extravert and a communicator — 4-H helped develop those strengths. While Pearl is detailed and organized, with a color-coded planner and notes from the day.”
Daskam was a finalist in 4-H’s Healthy Living Pillar.
Both will be leaving for college in two years, which has brought about some succession planning. “Of course, we will be willing to make calls and things, but we won’t be the boots on the ground,” Battel says. “We both have siblings that are willing to take that on, and we’re working to prepare them for it.”
Working with MSUE, the program is creating a mission statement and bylaws, en route to applying for 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.
To raise awareness and community support, the program is hosting the daylong Cass City Hunger Summit in April. The conference will organize work groups to identify the needs and the assets in Cass City.
“With food, some people have plenty and some have none,” Battel says. “As an icebreaker for the summit, participants will be handed tickets, which will tell them what class they’re in and how much breakfast they get that day.”
Battel hopes it will influence the community. She credits her mom, Sue, for making the difference in her life. “She’s my mentor, my everything,” Battel says. “She helps me think big, dream of what could be, but she also helps me remember the details and brings me to earth.”