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Iowa Lakes student honored with 2017 Chrystal Award

November 16, 2017

From small town Iowa to tribal villages in India, food security is a global problem as well as a local one — and now one Iowa Lakes Community College student has been honored for his work toward solving that problem.

“(Food insecurity) is a big problem, but it can't be solved in one fell swoop.  It is going to take a lot of people doing small things before we see major progress,” said Nicholas Nicholas Grandstaff interviews a woman about her family’s expenses, farming practices and priorities.Grandstaff, originally of Ruthven, who recently received the 2017 John Chrystal Intern Award at the 2017 World Food Prize Ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol in Des Moines.

Grandstaff, the son of Ray and Barb Grandstaff, graduated from Emmetsburg High School. He attended Iowa Lakes for one year and is currently taking classes at the University of Iowa to complete his Iowa Lakes associate degree—a phenomenon called “reverse-transferring.” He plans to graduate from Iowa Lakes in the spring and finish his bachelor’s degree in economics at the University of Iowa.

He earned the Chrystal Award for his work as a 2016 Borlaug-Ruan International Intern and his research on understanding food security through livelihood capitals and value chains while he interned at the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, India. The Chrystal Award is given to the Borlaug-Ruan International Intern who most strongly reflects a commitment to enriching Iowa’s relationship with the world and the belief that everyone is entitled to a sense of dignity and adequate food, according to the World Food Prize organization.

Much of his work involved recording how local farmers in the Kolli Hills in India balance growing cash crops for their living and food crops for their own families’ nutritional needs—and how the balance can tip away from nutrition to cause food insecurity.

“My Borlaug-Ruan Internship gave me a lot of new perspectives on agriculture I previously hadn't had access to, let alone thought of,” Grandstaff said. “I believe the key to solving problems is being able to recognize them, something we can't do without seeing every situation from many angles.”

Food security doesn’t just involve food quantity, but also availability, accessibility and quality of nutrition, Grandstaff said. That means limited access to grocery stores—a common problem in rural Midwest towns — and other sources of healthy food can also cause food insecurity.

Nicholas Grandstaff and some of the people who helped him during his internship in India.“Food security takes a lot of forms,” Grandstaff said. “In Emmetsburg a dedicated group of teachers and community member did their part by creating a weekend-meal program called Feed Our Kids-Emmetsburg, which has been supplying meals to local kids (in kindergarten through eighth grade) who need it in our community.”

Grandstaff believes people who want to make a difference should start small, and keep in mind that food security is a very personal issue to many people.

“Each story you hear and experience you take in will open new doors and opportunities, so always keep an eye out for a way to get involved,” he advised.

Grandstaff was quite surprised to learn he had won the Chrystal Award— and relieved he could return to the Global Youth Institute to share his experiences with students. He thanked his professor, M.S. Swaminathan, as an inspiration due to his tireless dedication to research and youth who aspire to follow in his path. He also thanked his biology teacher, Tricia Reichert, one of the few high school teachers in the nation who incorporates the World Food Prize’s youth programs into her curriculum.

“When I applied for the Borlaug-Ruan Internship the opportunity seemed far from the grasp of a small town Emmetsburg High School student,” Grandstaff wrote in his final internship paper, noting that he was turned down for an internship in 2015 before being accepted in 2016, after his work began with Feed Our Kids-Emmetsburg. “Each step of the process has been life-changing and helped me to discover my passion for addressing global food insecurity which I will carry on for the rest of my life.”

For more information about the World Food Prize, visit, or click here to read Grandstaff's final paper.

For more information about Iowa Lakes Community College, visit

Nicholas Grandstaff stands with the Nakesh family, who he spent a great deal of time with in the Kolli Hills region of India as part of his time as a 2016 Borlaug-Ruan International Intern.
Nicholas Grandstaff stands with the Nakesh family, who he spent a great deal of time with in the Kolli Hills region of India as part of his time as a 2016 Borlaug-Ruan International Intern.

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