You learn a lot growing up on a farm.
Graysville farm girl Bailey Gitzel jokes she’s already starting to look back to when she was “a kid with too many chickens.”
“I’ve had some life-changing experiences between then and now,” says the 17-year-old Grade 12 student in Carman Collegiate.
Her foray into poultry just after she turned 13 became the catalyst for two other farm ventures, honey production and selling her baking as ‘The Farmer’s Daughter’ vendor at the Carman Dufferin Farmers’ Market.
Those experiences taught her a lot about the world of business, including supply and demand.
“I miscalculated how many chickens a family of five needed. We were overrun with eggs and giving them to anyone who wanted some,” she told the 29th annual Manitoba Farm Women’s Conference in Winkler last week.
This ‘farmer’s daughter’ has had some more recent opportunities to take in prestigious national and international events that are helping to shape her future.
Last month, Gitzel took part in an international student delegation attending the World Food Prize’s Global Youth Institute in Des Moines, Iowa.
The October event was held during the Borlaug Dialogue International Symposium, attracting 1,300 people from more than 60 countries to discuss global hunger and food security issues.
It opened her eyes to so many issues related to food security, says Gitzel, who was able to hear speakers and presentations from some of the world leaders in industry, science, and policy. She also presented a paper herself on the theme “Sustainably Feeding Nine Billion by 2050.”
“It was an amazing experience to meet leaders from around the world who are having an impact on global food security and to hear some of the stories how one person has had an impact on others’ lives,” said the young agricultural leader, who serves as president of her school’s student council and president of her 4-H Beef Club at La Riviere.
But the main highlight from Des Moines was a simple, symbolic meal that brought to life the reality of hunger and poverty, she said.
“That experience came during the Oxfam Hunger Banquet. During the banquet participants were asked to step into someone else’s shoes for one meal. I was a part of the poorest of the poor.”
It meant sitting on the floor eating a single handful of rice from a shared bowl while others milled around eating a meal that was much more filling.
“Others had rice and chicken,” she said. “The wealthiest people of the exercise got a three-course meal.”
That, more than anything else, made the hunger statistics come to life, she told her pin-drop quiet audience in Winkler.
“I’ve read statistics about hunger and they’ve had little meaning to me,” she said. “But as I sat there I had a new perspective. The hunger statistics weren’t just words to me anymore. I was able to see how, in other parts of the world, people struggle to even have food every day. I realized how privileged I was to be able to say I haven’t gone hungry.
“I’m just a farm girl from rural Manitoba but it’s my generation that will be feeding the people of the future,” she added. “I want to help.”
Gitzel is headed to university after high school next year, and has applied at both the universities of Manitoba and Saskatchewan.
“I plan to study plant biotechnology,” she said.
That decision was reached after another event that left a strong impression on her. In 2014, she was chosen by the Canadian Seed Trade Association to attend the Grow Canada Conference in Ottawa where industry leaders from across Canada meet to discuss topics such as trade, technology and agricultural innovation.
She departed for that conference thinking she’d made up her mind to study medicine after high school. But the Grow Canada Conference opened her eyes to how diverse and wide the careers are in agriculture.
“I feel that nowadays not all young people are looking to agriculture for their future, and especially a lot of kids who see their families struggle and so they want to get away from the farm,” she said.
“I definitely didn’t realize that I could study science at such a high level and still be in agriculture.
“Agriculture today is so much more than just farming and there’s so many different areas in agriculture it’s easy for young people to find something they find interesting.”
She’s grateful to have those experiences, combined with a homegrown education as a young farm entrepreneur, Gitzel said at the conclusion of her speech.
“Growing up on the farm has allowed me to have some incredible opportunities,” she said. “I’m very proud that I come from a farm.”