Pest Success: 4-H member starts business, wins national award for bio-pesticide

A young man uses a sprayer in a tree

After moving to the U.S. as a child, Matias Habib felt like an outsider. He struggled with language barriers and social anxiety and was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Now, he realizes those differences were vital tools that empowered his focus on science. Through the University of Illinois Extension 4-H science program, Habib found community and confidence.

When his family’s orchard was attacked by the invasive Japanese beetle, Habib went to work. He researched, tested, and developed a natural solution to protect crops from the pest. His bio-pesticide spray, TerraBuster, works using eco-conscious production practices and ingredients. With the help of Illinois 4-H leaders, Habib funded and staffed his growing business and is currently expanding his product to repellents for other pests.

“After struggling with cognitive, social, and language barriers, 4-H gave me a place to connect and develop my passion for science and research. Through 4-H, I met kids who shared my interests, especially in natural sciences. I learned how to develop a product that could help other farmers and gardeners facing the challenges my family faced in a safe and sustainable way.”
- Matias Habib

The National 4-H Council recently awarded the 17-year-old from Kendall County the 2023 4-H Youth in Action Award for Agriculture sponsored by Bayer. Habib will be recognized nationally for developing his own patent-pending bio-pesticide and startup business through a 4-H entomology project.

As a national winner, Habib will receive a $5,000 higher education scholarship and spend 2023 inspiring other youth by telling his 4-H story and celebrating his leadership. He will also showcase his story nationally, network with prominent 4-H alumni, and serve as the official 4‑H youth spokesperson for agriculture.

Now a senior at the Illinois Math and Science Academy, Habib plans to pursue a career in which he can develop innovative solutions to protect the environment.

“Matias is a stellar example of a young person who has persevered through social challenges to create a path forward and show a great amount of entrepreneurship by creating his own bio-pesticide startup business,” says Jackie Applegate, president of Bayer Crop Science North America. “At Bayer, we are proud to support many young people - just like Matias - as they learn and develop leadership skills that can make a positive difference in agriculture and in our world in the years ahead.”

Habib is one of four 2023 4-H Youth in Action award winners who were announced during National 4-H week, October 2 to 8. The other winners announced include Norah Carter of Pennsylvania (Healthy Living), Nicole Cash of Minnesota (STEM), and Sruthi Sudarsan of California (Civic Engagement). 

“We are proud to honor our 2023 Youth in Action winners, a group of exceptional young people who have overcome obstacles and made an incredible impact on their communities through Cooperative Extension’s 4-H programs,” says Jennifer Sirangelo, president and CEO, National 4-H Council. “By empowering these standout youth and fostering their skills to make change, they, in turn, can inspire thousands of other young people wanting to make a difference. When given the tools they need to lead, 4-H’ers like Matias, Sruthi, Norah, and Nicole are becoming the next generation of changemakers in their communities and for our country. ”

Launched in 2010, the 4-H Youth in Action Awards recognize 4-Hers who have applied the knowledge gained in 4-H to create a lasting impact in their communities while overcoming personal obstacles.

Learn more about the 4-H Youth in Action Awards and winners from around the country at www.4-h.org/youthinaction.