Sharing Borlaug’s Legacy To Feed And Inspire

By Christina Riessen and Barbara McBreen

Norman Borlaug won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his role in alleviating hunger worldwide. For the past six summers, Iowa State University students have interned at Borlaug’s boyhood home to preserve the grounds and share his story.

The story is inspiring. Borlaug (1914-2009) was an Iowa native and agricultural scientist who grew up on a farm near Cresco. He developed disease resistant wheat, which saved millions of lives during the 1960s and ’70s.

Last summer Dan Doeing, (’13 agriculture and life sciences education), received the internship and spent his summer sharing Borlaug’s story.

Along with planting and maintaining the garden at the farm, Borlaug-Thomson interns assist with the Howard County Fair, lead Borlaug farm tours and work with both the Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation and the Iowa State University Howard County Extension office.

The Borlaug-Thomson internship is funded by Jack and Fran Thomson and Maury (’65 MS agricultural education) and Martha Kramer—friends of Borlaug and supporters of the Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation.

“Working to preserve the legacy of such an accomplished individual made the internship rewarding,” Doeing says.

Borlaug’s belief that every child in the world should be well fed and have the opportunity to pursue an education was a key message in Doeing’s presentations to visitors to the Borlaug farm. One of Doeing’s favorite stories involved Borlaug’s choice between baseball and forestry.

Borlaug wanted to be a high school science teacher and athletic coach. He also dreamed of becoming second baseman for the Chicago Cubs, but he chose forestry.

“I remember vividly the day when I finally decided that I had to do one of two things—play baseball or be a forester because we had afternoon laboratories in forestry. You couldn’t do both,” said Norman Borlaug, as told in an audio history by Wessel’s Living History Farms.

“The first child yelled ‘Worm!’ which quickly became a victory cry that echoed through the garden,” Doeing says. “I was ecstatic that so many kids were interested in learning about Borlaug and agriculture. These are the future leaders of our world and it is essential that they understand the basics of agriculture.”

The student interns play an important role in Inspire Day, hosted by the Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation Board. The interns facilitate a teaching station about Borlaug’s life at the program, which attracts more than 200 children from regional schools. The day is held in conjunction with Cresco’s annual Borlaug Harvest Fest and teaches students about agriculture, science, history and Borlaug’s life.

Inspire Day was started by Barb Schwamann, president of the Iowa Borlaug Heritage Foundation, seven years ago.

“Barb’s tireless leadership for the Inspire Day has meant a lot to me and our faculty who have participated in hands-on educational activities for local fifth graders,” says Wendy Wintersteen, Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“Inspire Day allows young people who come to Dr. Borlaug’s farm to catch the excitement of a future that may include walking in this great agricultural scientist’s footsteps,” Wintersteen says. “In the end, that’s the success of the partnership— measured by the wonderful faces of the students who visit the farm. Their thank-you notes are unforgettable.”

David Acker, associate dean of academic and global programs, says it’s important for students to know about Norman Borlaug.

“This internship provides an opportunity to inspire the next generation of agricultural scientists, which was a passion of Norman Borlaug,” Acker says. “It is one of the most prestigious internships offered in theCollege of Agriculture and Life Sciences.”

The internship introduces students to Borlaug’s legacy and helps them share that legacy with others. Only students in Iowa State’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are eligible for the internship. The awardees receive a $3,000 scholarship, a housing stipend and an eight- to 10-week paid position.