The 14th Global Forum for Rural Advisory Services (GFRAS) took place in Denver, CO in October 2023. This marked the first time this prestigious event has been held in North America, hosted by the North American Agricultural Advisory Network (NAAAN).

With a theme of Building the Next Generation of Leaders in Agriculture, I was fortunate enough to not only attend, but also participate in a panel on behalf of 4-H Canada as the Vice-Chair of the Youth Advisory Committee.

Upon arriving at GFRAS, I had the privilege of speaking on the International 4-H/FFA Panel alongside Scott Stump (CEO of the National FFA Organization), Jill Bramble (President and CEO of the National 4-H Council), Hector Castellanos Alonzo (representative for 4-H Mexico, FUERSAMX), Trent McKnight (founder of AgriCorps), and Dr. Tom Archibald (Executive Director of the Center for International Research, Education, and Development).

The session was emceed by Dionne Toombs (Associate Director for Programs at the United States Department of Agriculture). We discussed the development and use of experiential learning opportunities for youth to gain practical and leadership skills in agriculture, as well as the impacts that such programs have on youth. Having been the youngest individual on this panel, and currently involved with 4-H as a youth, I was able to recount my past and present experiences with youth development programs, their benefits, and ultimately how they can change the trajectory of your personal and professional life for the better.

We also discussed ongoing programs and partnerships that have been launched among youth development programs internationally to facilitate connections among local enterprises, government, and communities. For example, Virginia Tech partnered with the Senegalese Ministry of Higher Education, Research, and Innovation to improve the functions and programming of 4-H in Senegal. By integrating life skills with agricultural and entrepreneurship skills, the creation of 350 locally-led clubs was facilitated with the enrollment of approximately 5,000 youth.

In addition to participating in standard conference discussions during activities, attendees were also invited to select agricultural operations in Denver and the surrounding area to visit. I toured Olander Farm, which grows malt grains and supplies craft malt to more than 100 breweries and distilleries in Colorado under the name of Root Shoot Malting. I also visited Elk Run Farm, a regenerative land design project managed by Drylands Agroecology Research to restore degraded land into a farmable state with terraforming and bioregional crops.

Manjit Misra, the Director of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture at the United States Department of Agriculture, closed out the conference with a keynote about our next steps to facilitate equitable agricultural leadership. Manjit stated that humans are like seeds of different plants, and all require different conditions to grow; you cannot expect different seeds to thrive in a certain set of conditions that may only benefit one variety. From that point forward, this illustration of equity has stuck with me, and I believe that it is necessary to integrate this ideology into any work moving forward to create a robust generation of leaders in their own fields.

Throughout the GFRAS meeting, I was able to connect with champions in agricultural advisory services, policy analysis and advising, agroecology, and building the next generation of agricultural leaders from 40 countries across six continents. This experience was not only insightful and relevant to my personal and professional interests - but collaborating, networking, and learning at the GFRAS meeting left me feeling empowered and inspired. I even got to reconnect with individuals I met at previous conferences, highlighting the extent of global community and connectivity in agri-food systems.

The lasting impacts of serving as a voice for Canadian youth, agriculture, and leadership on an international scale have provided reassurance that, while you may experience imposter syndrome when speaking alongside executives of well-recognized organizations, youth representation is necessary in dynamic and expansive industries like agriculture.

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