Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Borlaug Travelog

Congress today voted to honor Norman Borlaug, the Iowa farmboy who grew up to save millions through improved plant varieties and farm practice. Bobby and I took a little pilgrimage to his boyhood home in Northeast Iowa this fall.

The farm is about 10 miles south of Cresco, in the far Northeast corner of Iowa.

Cresco honors him in its little downtown with this memorial:

We got directions to the farm by emailing the Norman Borlaug Heritage Foundation, a non-profit "dedicated to promoting education programs and projects which reflect the lifetime achievements and philosophy of Dr. Norman Borlaug." The foundation is restoring the house; you can help out here. We took the highway south out of town about 10 miles to 200th street, a gravel road, and turned west about two miles. For a hero's house, it's modest:

Nothing extraordinary; there are thousands of square old farmhouses like it in Iowa.

The Borlaug house does have an old barn that's nicer than most you see. Eight year-old Bobby is on the left, shooting his pictures.

I don't know how much Bobby will remember about the trip. I think he was more impressed by the Decorah Ice Cave we visited later. I sure hope he retains more about Dr. Borlaug than this farm about 1/2 mile down the road did:

Dr. Borlaug is unenthused about this organic stuff:

Reason: What do you think of organic farming? A lot of people claim it's better for human health and the environment.

Borlaug: That's ridiculous. This shouldn't even be a debate. Even if you could use all the organic material that you have--the animal manures, the human waste, the plant residues--and get them back on the soil, you couldn't feed more than 4 billion people. In addition, if all agriculture were organic, you would have to increase cropland area dramatically, spreading out into marginal areas and cutting down millions of acres of forests...

If people want to believe that the organic food has better nutritive value, it's up to them to make that foolish decision. But there's absolutely no research that shows that organic foods provide better nutrition. As far as plants are concerned, they can't tell whether that nitrate ion comes from artificial chemicals or from decomposed organic matter. If some consumers believe that it's better from the point of view of their health to have organic food, God bless them. Let them buy it. Let them pay a bit more. It's a free society. But don't tell the world that we can feed the present population without chemical fertilizer. That's when this misinformation becomes destructive.

The house isn't open for regular tours yet, though there is a caretaker who lives onsite in a trailer. Either he didn't notice us running around on the lawn, or he didn't mind.

It's a beautiful part of the state. Visit if you get the chance, and spare a thought for the millions living today thanks to his work.

1 comment:

Brent said...

I'm born and raised in Iowa, but I have yet to visit the northeast part of the state. I've been everywhere else. The farthest NE I've been is Cedar Rapids.