Where are the young people? It’s a question I have been asked a lot this past year as Upper Peninsula Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference.
To get answers, I turned to an organization called 40 Below in Marquette County. The group was created in 2010 as a way for professionals under the age of 40 to come together through networking and professional development opportunities. The group hosts fun events, puts on conferences and encourages young adults to volunteer in the community.
This past Thursday, a few of the group’s members were at the VIP Chef Table for the opening night of Chez Nous Cafe, the Northern Michigan University Hospitality Management run restaurant. The Chef Table experience allows up to eight guests a backstage look at the preparation of their five-course meal. Maybe this group could provide some answers to my question.
When asked if she felt young people were involved in the area’s community, Marina Dupler, Assistant Director of NMU Alumni Relations and Co-Founder of Barrel + Beam answered, “I think young people are very involved in our community, but in my experience, it there seems to be more energy around efforts that are project based. If there are races to be organized, events to be planned or initiatives to take on, young people are there and doing the work. But boards, commissions and regular meetings seem to be more of a push.”
So are there still young people out there to inspire and if so, how can we help? Kate Hadel, President of 40 Below and Vice President of the Upper Peninsula Human Resources Association shared that their group is in early stages of planning an event called “…Resolve to Get Involved, where local organizations with open board seats or volunteer needs can meet with young professionals looking to get more involved.”
When I asked if the UP lacked opportunities for young adults, Shannon Whitehouse, Project Manager at Stang Decision Systems elaborated, “I’m happy to say that there are people in the community who value Marquette and want to change that issue/perception. Invest UP is a big example of this. They are bringing more jobs and other opportunities to the UP and bringing about awareness about current opportunities.”
So to answer my the question, “where the young people at?”: They are attending college, may it be studying sustainability, or learning the skills to run a kitchen. They are volunteering at their local farmers markets, food pantries, and helping organize numerous community events. They are in the workforce, doing all they can to create and sustain positions vital to the sustainable growth of the UP. They are business owners and farmers spending long days doing all they can to be successful, often not only for their own livelihood, but that of their employees. That being said getting involved may seem daunting or even intimidating but know that our elders are involved because they care about our future just as much as we do – not only are older generations welcoming, they are excited to hear what we have to say and pass on the plethora of wisdom that only experience provides.
To end, I asked the group why it was so important for young people to get involved, and Whitehouse summarized it perfectly. “It is a cliche, but the youth are the future. If they don’t like the world they see around them, the only way to build the future they want is to get involved.”
Chez Nous, NMU Jacobetti Complex, 2296 Sugarloaf Ave, Marquette, MI 49855
Alex Palzewicz is the Upper Peninsula Local Food Coordinator for Taste the Local Difference, and inspired by all the awesome young professionals across the whole Upper Peninsula doing great things in their communities. Questions on how you can get more involved and network in your own UP region, send her an e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org