On Friday, September 14 school buses lined the yard outside a one-room schoolhouse in rural Howard County, Iowa. More than 300 fifth grade students from area school districts had come to learn about Nobel Prize winner Norman Borlaug at the farm on which he was born and raised.
I happened to be in near-by Cresco during “Harvest Days,” the annual celebration of agriculture, Borlaug and his legacy. The agronomist, humanitarian and father of the Green Revolution attended the one-room New Oregon #8 school, located on the farm owned by Borlaug’s grandparents, until 8th grade.
The first day of the annual Cresco celebration is called “Inspire Education Day,” with students taking turns sitting in the same desks that Borlaug, his relatives and neighbors occupied in the 1920s. The modern-day youngsters heard about the impact the 1932 Cresco High School graduate had on the world.
They were told the story of Borlaug’s grandfather, who encouraged him to go to college saying, “You’re wiser to fill your head now if you want to fill your belly later on.”
And they look almost incredulous when told Borlaug’s work on high-yield, disease-resistant wheat varieties likely saved the lives of billions worldwide, people who otherwise would have died from starvation. Borlaug’s introduction of the high-yield varieties combined with modern agricultural production techniques revolutionized agriculture in Mexico, Pakistan and India initially, then later across the Asian and African continents.
The Borlaug Farm looks much as it looked a century ago. But it is increasingly a destination for tourists and those who want to learn about Borlaug and his genius.
The Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation has worked to restore the house Borlaug’s parents built on the family farm in the 1920s, as well as the near-by barn. Informational signs and kiosks tell the tale of the Borlaug family, their Howard County roots and the son who went on to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal. Norman Borlaug is one of only five people to be awarded all three.
The foundation board has great plans for the future and wants to develop a Borlaug Education Outreach Center, including an Interpretive center, studio, living accommodations, small study/ library, science and art exhibition hall and greenhouse. The 106-acre farm would continue in pasture, cropland, and forest preserve with Borlaug crop demonstrations, walking trails and creek bridges.
Secretary Tom Vilsack, who received the Borlaug Public Service Award at the World Food Prize’s Hoover-Wallace Dinner earlier this year, has made it clear that agri-tourism is an economic development strategy that can create jobs and boost rural areas. The preservation of Norman Borlaug’s family farm – and the introduction of his genius to generations of young people – will achieve the Secretary’s goals, and much more.
To learn more about the Borlaug Fellowship Program click here.