Cassie Hayward experienced food insecurity regularly growing up. In grade 10, she became involved with a 4-H program in Dartmouth. Through 4-H, Cassie had the opportunity to learn about agriculture and food security.
“A lot of people in my community were food insecure. Growing up, it’s not just your experience, but also seeing an issue really prevalent and feeling like there was not a lot of visible action going on.”
Food security was an issue that Cassie became increasingly passionate about. “I had this personal experience with food security which I was very aware of at the time, but I didn’t really know how to do anything about it… the dots weren’t all connected yet.”
Starting out as an undergraduate at King’s, Cassie believed her interest in food security and agriculture had to be put on the sideline to focus on academics. She enrolled to study philosophy and psychology. “I thought at the time there was a separation,” she explains.
In the summer after her first year at King’s, she travelled to Ghana through the 4H program to learn more about agricultural development and food security. The trip was a turning point for Cassie. “I was so empowered,” she recalls. Cassie made the decision to switch her course of study to be more aligned with her passions. “King’s pushed me as a person to be willing to make that transition… I felt really empowered to take control of my education in a way that I wasn’t able to previously.”
Having learnt that she was much more interested in food security than in philosophy, Cassie continued to explore her passion through classes in political science and sustainability. She also devoted time to extra curriculars and part-time work, including being elected to the King’s Student Union (KSU) and playing rugby. “Being on the rugby team, I felt and huge sense of community and it really made me feel a sense of purpose… it was a really great support system.”
Cassie started to look for opportunities beyond King’s, too. In the summer between her second and third year, she was accepted to go to the Youth Agricultural Summit as a delegate for Canada, based on an essay she had written on how young people can achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. “I just wrote from the heart. I wrote about the SDGs that are closest to my heart – gender equality and food security.” Although delighted, she was surprised to have been selected, especially as the youngest Canadian delegate by five years.
“I didn’t have much experience in anything! I think that really opened the door for me to apply for anything, even if I didn’t feel qualified.” Her advice to any aspiring young person seeking similar opportunities is simple – apply. “Even if you feel like you’re not qualified, you could be. Or there could be attributes in you or experiences you’ve had that you don’t know are applicable.” And it takes persistence. Cassie adds, “for everything I’ve been accepted on, there are ten denied applications!”
When Cassie got to the conference, she was placed in a group to work on gender equality in the context of zero hunger. Together the team, Agrikua, won 10,000 euros which they used to successfully pilot the project in Kenya. They were also invited to speak about their work at the United Nations Committee on Global Food Security. The next year, Cassie addressed the United Nations for the first time, and has been five times since.
“They kept having me back to talk about youth issues in food and agriculture, coming from a developed country’s perspective, but also from somebody who grew up in poverty from a developed country – a perspective that isn’t really mainstream at the UN. We gloss over the fact that there are a lot of people in Canada and in developed countries in general who are food insecure.”
Cassie, eager to stay in academia, joined the Balsillie School of International Affairs at the University of Waterloo in 2019 to pursue an MA in Global Governance. She wrote her master’s research project on Canada’s response to Sustainable Development Goal 2 – Zero Hunger. “I think that King’s and Dal really prepared me academically for a master’s degree.” Cassie says.
“I would describe my King’s experience as transformational… I came out more prepared to deal with the issues in the world that I wanted to address.”
And as a first-generation student, Cassie is now helping her younger brother with his university applications. She feels that while deciding what to study at university can be a difficult life decision, there is plenty of time to figure it out along the way. “Something I was never told is that you can try anything you want and if you don’t like it, cross it off. And there’s value to that, to be able to cross it off.”
How did Cassie figure it out? She followed her core principle. “I think everybody should have a core principle to guide you in what you do,” Cassie says, “my core principle is, “how can I generate the most positive impact possible?”
The core principle stays the same, even though the outcome changes. Previously, speaking at the UN was Cassie’s platform for generating positive impact. Now, it’s in research. After interning with Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada during her master’s program, she secured a job as a Junior Analyst with the same department. Her research is currently focused on food and beverage processing and ocean innovation. For now, this is her platform for generating positive impact. And she’s just getting started.
“I really cherish my King’s experience… I feel like I did the most that I possibly could while I was there, and that’s a really big sense of satisfaction and pride for me. I never thought that I would even be able to go to university. Being at this point now… I’m going to get at least two degrees – it’s crazy to me… And now I’m applying for PhDs!”
Date posted: January 2021