The World Food Prize Foundation

Borlaug-Ruan Intern Spotlight: Millicent Varley


Millicent Varley of Stuart, Iowa, was a 2014 Borlaug-Ruan Intern in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Millicent Varley is a native of Stuart, Iowa, USA. She served as a summer 2014 Borlaug-Ruan Intern in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She is currently studying Environmental Studies and Science at Macalester College.

I grew up on a farm in southwestern Iowa, chasing massive Angus cattle down the road, bottle-feeding orphaned sheep, and tending to chickens and geese. When I was 12 my family moved to a suburb of Des Moines, and suddenly my backyard shrank rather drastically. My perspective on agriculture shifted as we began to buy eggs in the grocery store and frequent farmer’s markets for strawberries. Since my new community of Johnston, Iowa is a mecca for industrial agriculture, the home for DuPont Pioneer and John Deere, I had assumed my peers would be relatively attuned to agriculture, but I found that many of my new friends gave no thought to where their steak began its journey. I learned that there is a severe disconnect between Americans and the origins of the food, its processing procedures, and its impact on our world.

When I heard about the World Food Prize Foundation and the Global Youth Institute, I was thrilled for the opportunity to discuss agricultural issues like this with like-minded students and renowned experts. Attending the Institute in 2012, my eyes were opened to the fight for food security on a global scale. Internationally, there are concerns, issues, and calamities in food production that I had never imagined. I saw how limited my agricultural background truly was, and it inspired me to apply for the Borlaug-Ruan International Internship so that I could better understand the relationship between communities and food across the globe. 

Selected as a 2014 Borlaug-Ruan Intern, I traveled to the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where I worked under Dr. Jean Hanson in the Forage Diversity department. My eight-week internship was focused on seed production, and was consumed with literature research, background study of plant biology, anatomy, and genetics, devising experiments, and viewing the different cogs involved in forage diversity. My personal project involved studying and offering hypotheses for the stalled seed production of two forage legume plants in the ILRI greenhouses. 

My internship experience was so much more than research and lab work though, and I have taken with me innumerable new skills in the scientific field. I have been able to experience a range of responsibilities, including seedling germination, field planting, chemical lab work, experiment design and carry-through, including drawing conclusions and making hypotheses based on tests and research. 

Furthermore, the internship has opened my eyes to the possibility that this type of work could be a career for me in the future and further solidified my passion and drive to fight for global food security. I feel so much more confident than I was eight weeks ago, not only about my capability in chemistry, or my passions in life, or even my tolerance for change, but also as a person. I feel extremely fortunate that I was given the chance to spend two months in a new country with new people, examining and reconfiguring my identity. I have been inspired by the people I worked with and farmers I visited to make this, advancements in global resource management, my life-long work.

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