Addy Battel founded an organization to help her rural town get access to nutritional food
By Jennon Bell Hoffmann
Nestled in the center of the thumb of the Michigan mitten, the small town of Cass City calls itself “A Community That Cares About Each Other.”
The city, home to roughly 2,300 residents, is sticking strongly to that motto as it fights a battle against food insecurity–a lack of access to affordable, nutritional food for its residents. Leading the charge is a 16-year-old with hobbies, big dreams, and an unbridled passion for strengthening her hometown through social action.
In 2014, when Addy Battel was 12, the only grocery store in Cass City closed. For the preteen, that simply meant trips to the store would now take longer.
“My dad worked in a town with a grocery store and often he could just bring things home,” she recalls. It was a few years later, when Addy started volunteering at a local food pantry in town, that she realized the broader more immediate impact that food insecurity had on her community.
“I learned that not every family has the gas money to drive 30 miles, and sometimes it means the difference between getting groceries that week or not,” she says.
Addy rolled up her sleeves and found a way to combine her favorite activities for a good cause. Addy, along with four friends, started Meating the Need for Our Village, an organization that raises livestock and poultry, and collects donations of milk and eggs, to supplement the otherwise protein-deficient food pantry stock.
“We were just 12 or 13 years old and saw an opportunity to have fun and to do something helpful. When we learned that 15 percent of the community was food insecure, [we] applied for a grant, which allowed us to figure out some of the needs,” she says.
For Addy, the issue was obvious—as was the solution. “Hunger is so important because I see it every day in rural America. Cass City is experiencing economic depression and it’s a rural food desert,” she says.
Addy was already raising chickens and had friends with similar farming skills to put to use. Now Meating the Need for Our Village raises lambs, goats, steers, rabbits, and pigs, and has proteins donated through county fairs and members of the project to supply up to three food pantries serving the Cass City area at a given time. The organization also gets eggs raised in the barn at a local high school and milk from both the Dairy Farmers of America co-op and independent dairy farmers, who offer a special rate that allows Addy and her co-founders to stretch their grant funding.
By The Numbers
Today, Meating the Need for Our Village has donated:
10,000 pounds of meat
2,000 gallons of milk
200 dozen eggs
Empowered And Making An Impact
According to Addy’s mother, Sue Stuever Battel, Addy has always been a problem-solver. “She doesn’t wait for someone to say, ‘We need a volunteer.’ Addy sees a problem and says. ‘What can we do about this?’”
When Addy was 6, she got dragged to the ground by her goat during a livestock show, Sue recalls. She says Addy simply smiled at the judge and—still bleeding—bounced right back up. While Sue credits rural life in part for teaching her to face problems head-on, “Addy, more so than other kids her age, [is] able to see the problems and be bold about it and decide to be the one to do something about it.”
Addy’s been an ardent member of 4-H Club since she was 5. The organization offers a variety of agricultural educational programs, and Addy has always enjoyed the hands-on experience of raising animals and thinking through farming challenges. Addy credits 4-H in not only shaping her leadership skills and talents but also helping fortify her personal values and desire to make an impact.
“4-H empowers youth for real-life experiences” she says. “4-H has been a safe place to learn how to fail. It teaches you, ‘Here’s what you can do to bounce back from that, to continue going after setbacks.’”
While she maintains her humility, Addy’s dedication to tackling Cass City’s food insecurity issues has landed her in a bright spotlight. In January, Addy was recognized as the 4-H Youth in Action Agriculture Pillar Winner, sponsored by Bayer, one of only four awards given to applicants across the country by the National 4-H Council.
Abbey Tillman, National 4-H Council representative, says that what stuck out about Addy is that she clearly demonstrates leadership. “Addy saw a need in her community and worked hard to pave her own path to meet that need,” Abbey says. “The leadership skills she developed in 4-H gave her the confidence, drive, and commitment she needed to start a brand new effort and see it through to fruition.”
As a winner, Addy received a $5,000 scholarship and a trip to Washington, D.C., in March for a legacy award dinner. While the perks are nice, for Addy, the award is more personal.
“I’m very proud to have been recognized by my favorite thing in the world and to involve other youths on a national scale,” she says. “It has elevated my story at a local level, and it’s helped motivate the youth and the things that directly affect me and [my] community.”
The Promising Young Generation Of Rural America
Talking to Addy, it’s easy to forget that on top of being fully involved in 4-H, raising animals, and running a thriving organization, she is still a teenager with hobbies and extracurriculars.
So how does she do it?
“The biggest [reason] I’m able to do this is flexibility in my schedule. I’m homeschooled so I can balance my core subjects with Meating the Need for Our Village, 4-H, FFA (Future Farmers of America), community theater, competitive rowing. It’s a lot of rearranging things. 4-H has helped instill some of that in me, teaching time management skills and the value of being well-rounded,” she says.
Whatever the activity or project, commitment and dedication drive Addy. And when she can, she tries to inspire other teens with her passions. She admits, “It’s pretty difficult getting young people motivated to do anything, but it’s easier for me. I make it fun. I say, ‘Lets show up together.’”
“Her commitment to her community is evident as she continues to mobilize youth and adults to meet the needs of the food insecure,” says Abbey.
Addy’s contagious dedication is going to be crucial in the next couple years, as she and her fellow co-founders pass on the torch of Meating the Need for Our Village to the next generation. Along with grooming their siblings to lead the organization, Addy and her friends are working to grow participation among farmers, other adults in Cass City, and youth-focused organizations.
“We’re in transition now, from being very grassroots to being seniors next year and leaving it in our siblings’ hands,” Addy says.
With her dogged determination and a scholarship in her pocket, Addy has her sights set on the future. After graduating from high school in 2020, Addy plans to attend Michigan State University to study animal science, international development, and agriculture communications.
“My biggest hope might be to come home and continue running Meating the Need for Our Village as an official nonprofit and make a career out of it,” she says. Or she may use her degree to do policy work in Washington, D.C., or help farmers in developing countries adopt efficient practices.
“I don’t know,” she admits.
Addy may not be certain of her exact path yet, but she knows the direction.
“I will be satisfied as long as I can get food to people who need it through animal agriculture.”
To learn more about Meating the Need for Our Village, visit the organization’s Facebook page.
To learn more about enrolling kids and teens in 4‑H programs or volunteering for 4-H, visit the National 4-H Club website.
Jennon Bell Hoffmann writes lifestyle and human-interest stories from her home in Illinois.