For Lindsey Verhaeghe, educating youth about agriculture is critical as the divide between the industry and the general public grows. Her commitment to teaching young people about agriculture through interactive games was recently recognized with a prestigious award from the United Nations.
Verhaeghe was one of 10 recipients of the United Nations Global Compact 2019 Sustainable Development Goals Pioneer award. This annual award highlights young professionals ages 35 and under who work for a company participating in the United Nations (UN) Global Compact and demonstrate outstanding commitment to advancing the UN’s 17 Global Goals for Sustainable Development.
“It’s an honour to be recognized by UN Global Compact,” says Verhaeghe, who was presented the Sustainable Development Goals Pioneer award this fall at the UN headquarters in New York.
Verhaeghe grew up on her family’s ranch in southern Alberta, and after studying business at the University of Lethbridge, she embarked on a career dedicated to agriculture education.
“I’ve travelled extensively across North America and regardless of age or province there is a scary disconnect between views on agriculture and how food is grown,” she says.
“I’ve had community partners share stories about children who have asked for a seed to plant cheese, an adult who says pickled cucumbers sounded gross, an adult who asked if swine were endangered and hunted, a teenager who asked if a Holstein dairy cow was sick because it was so white. And the list goes on and on.”
Today, Verhaeghe is the sustainability initiatives and reporting manager for Nutrien, where she uses the Sustainable Development Goals to teach young people about sustainability in agriculture.
“I’ve spent the last 10 years at Nutrien working with non-profits, educators and ag professionals on community investment initiatives, specifically developing youth education programs to teach students about sustainable agriculture and environmental stewardship,” she explained.
Nutrien joined the UN Global Compact in 2008 and is also a Global Compact Network Canada Visionary Supporter. The company collaborates with stakeholders around the world, such as the World Business Council for Sustainable Development and UN Global Compact, to advance sustainable business and agricultural practices, says Verhaeghe.
One reason Verhaeghe stands out as a Sustainable Development Goals Pioneer is her work in developing the Global Hero mobile application. This app features 17 mini-games created to teach young people about each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals through a fun and competitive format.
She also played a role in the development of two online games designed to teach young people about global food sustainability. Journey 2050 is a free program to be used in classrooms for Grades 7 through 12. This program includes a virtual farm simulation, and Verhaeghe hopes this will “engage schools in discussions on how we will feed nearly 10 billion people by the year 2050” and advance the Sustainable Development Goals.
The second program, Farmers 2050, is a game that highlights agricultural production practices. Verhaeghe hopes that young people who play this game will find “an appreciation for the social, economic and environmental efforts of sustainable agriculture and all the people involved from farm to fork and beyond.” This game is available on the App Store and Google Play Store. Currently, both games have reached more than 400,000 students across North America.
“Since inception I’ve been involved in the development, but these programs were built with like-minded community partners across North America,” says Verhaeghe. “The programs are delivered by agriculture non-profit organizations such as Calgary Stampede, Ag for Life and Agriculture in the Classroom.”
Verhaeghe is passionate about educating young people on the importance of agriculture, which she believes is more necessary than ever before.
“Agriculture is the foundation for life, yet the disconnect between urban and rural continues to grow. Using educational video games is a powerful way to teach,” she says. “Youth have a lot of questions about where their food comes from and when they dive into the Journey 2050 program they come up with creative and innovative solutions to feeding the world. They also leave with a greater understanding and appreciation for growers.”
Verhaeghe is also a member of the Alberta Sustainable Development Goals Network, which comprises professionals from a wide variety of industries, brought together by the common goal of supporting the UN Global Compact’s Global Goals.