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Vancouver Island teenager wins national public speaking competition

Janel van Dongen among youngest competitors at Toronto event
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Janel van Dongen was awarded first place at the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture event in Toronto this past November. (Submitted photo)

A Nanoose Bay teenager took home the top prize at the Canadian Young Speakers for Agriculture (CYSA) public speaking competition, held recently in Toronto.

Janel van Dongen’s speech ‘A Future Painted with Light’ highlighted some of the ways agriculture can be part of the solution to climate change.

“I was trying to figure out how an industry that impacted me so positively could be a cause or at least a contributor to these problems,” she said. “And it made me curious if there’s ways we could use agriculture as a tool to not only stop causing damage to our climate, but to improve things.”

Van Dongen spoke on how farmers help restore natural systems that are out of balance. She included examples such as how strategic livestock grazing encourages new growth and improves carbon sequestration in grassland areas, while reducing the size and intensity of wildfires by removing grass and underbrush.

Her speech resonated with the judges, who ranked her at the top of 12 competitors from across Canada. At 16, she was among the youngest speakers in the 16 to 24 years old category.

“They noticed that I had woven the concept of photography throughout my speech and I did that very specifically because I come from the photography club,” van Dongen said.

She advanced to the CYSA competition, part of the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, after winning the provincial 4-H Communication Finals in the impromptu speech category over the summer.

READ MORE: Nanoose Bay teenager wins provincial 4-H public speaking competition

“I wanted to say something about agriculture and then not really having any agriculture connection that was super strong was a little bit nerve-racking,” van Dongen said. “So I decided to lean into that and I incorporated this concept of photography in my speech.”

The speech content accounted for 50 per cent of the speakers’ score, with the other half based on how they hold themselves on the stage, word choice, pacing, hand gestures and passion.

“When you find a topic that is really close to you and you believe so much in it,” she said. “You want to bring that and share those ideas with everyone, and it doesn’t matter whether or not you win.”

With her win, van Dongen was awarded a cash prize and was invited to speak at the Canadian Federation of Agriculture AGM in Ottawa in February.

This will be her first trip to the nation’s capital and she said she is excited to see the Parliament buildings.

Van Dongen added she is grateful to 4H BC, who paid for her flight to and from Toronto, the Snapshots 4H Photography Club and the CYSA for putting on the competition.

Hosted annually since 1985, CYSA is a national competition that provides youth an opportunity to develop public speaking and communication skills by expressing their opinions and ideas on current topics related to agriculture and agri-food.





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