When have you spoken up on behalf of agriculture, or helped to correct someone’s misconception? What was their reaction?
Location: Minneapolis, MN
2013 World Food Prize Laureate Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton has long been a hero of mine. I admire the 74-year-old “godmother of plant biotechnology” not only for doing what she did in the lab, but also for doing what she did in a male-dominated environment. The latter was one of the reasons why, when asked to deliver an educational presentation to a women’s group, I chose to talk about Dr. Chilton.
My audience nodded knowingly as I talked about Dr. Chilton’s struggle to be taken seriously as a female scientist in the 1950s. They listened carefully as I explained how Dr. Chilton had discovered the genetic modification ability of Agrobacterium while a faculty member at Washington University. They were surprised when I talked about how that discovery from nature was the basis for the work my company was now doing in biotechnology. They were even more surprised when I talked about a product we developed that harnessed the power of a naturally occurring bacteria found in a jug of sour milk in someone’s refrigerator. Suddenly, genetic modification seemed a little less scary. The fact that Dr. Chilton had two sons of her own also resonated with my audience of mothers.
I continue to share Dr. Chilton’s story whenever possible to help inform and enlighten. One-on-one conversations go a long ways in showing that agricultural professionals are like anyone else – we’re just working to feed the people we care about in the most responsible manner possible. The only difference is the scope. My friends focus on setting a table for four to six. In agriculture, we’re looking at more like 9 billion.