The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

What Borlaug Means to Me

By Nick Grandstaff
Borlaug-Ruan International Intern

Not too long ago, I was introduced to Dr. Norman Borlaug in my high school biology class.  Frankly, I had no idea who he was. 

My teacher, Mrs. Reichert, began the class by posing the question: “Does anyone know who on Earth is credited with saving one billion lives?”  No one could respond, we didn’t know.  She added, “If I told you this person was from northern Iowa--just like you--would that help?”  The class remained silent.

From her opening statement, I was hooked.  As Mrs. Reichert shared with us the monumental impact Dr. Borlaug had on the world and his dedication to solving global food insecurity, I couldn’t help but notice how human Dr. Borlaug was. 

As a high school student in northwest Iowa, a lot of things seem out of reach.  In the agricultural breadbasket of the nation, we feel a pull towards agriculture but don’t look far beyond what impact we might have beyond our corner of the state.  Dr. Borlaug was an exception.  Being from Cresco, Iowa, Dr. Borlaug made a lasting impact, with what I had once considered a burden—an Iowa farm upbringing. 

Since writing my first essay for the World Food Prize’s Youth Programs, I have been reminded time after time what average people can do when they commit to making the world a better place.  At the 2014 Iowa Youth Institute, I remember listening to Jo Luck speak about working in Uganda with Heifer International, only to find out halfway through the presentation that they were all first-hand accounts.    

I was immediately inspired.  Jo Luck seemed like a normal person to me, not to mention that she was humble enough to spend a day speaking to an auditorium filled with Iowa students.  If she can do it, why not me?  I knew that I was just an Iowa high school student, but I knew that Borlaug had once been in the same place.  If he can save a billion lives, why can’t I aspire to do the same? 

Since then, I’ve attended three Global Youth Institutes participating in different capacities each time.  Every year that I attend, I have another handful of “Jo Luck experiences.”  Borlaug’s lifetime of work had an impact on much more than the life sciences.  When I see the world’s “hunger fighters” convene, I am overwhelmed with joy that I can walk among them—even if just for a few days.  The spirit of a young Iowan who did not settle to go to college to wrestle, but instead went on to receive a doctorate in plant pathology.  The commitment of a scientist who went on to share his world-changing wheat with Mexico, and realized the bigger impact was in “taking it to the farmer.”  And what hits home for me most: A man who gave his own life to saving the lives of millions he never even met.  Borlaug’s lifelong commitment to improving our world inspires me every day.

As a 2016 Borlaug-Ruan intern at Professor Swaminathan’s foundation in Chennai, I awoke every day thrilled to go into the field and work with small holder farmers of the Kolli Hills.  In each of those farmer’s eyes, I saw a spark of Borlaug. Although the villagers I worked with lacked the resources to impact the whole world, I could see farmers (not unlike those in Iowa) who were committed to improving their sphere of influence to the best of their ability.  

To me, that’s who Norman Borlaug was and still is today.  A man who was as human as the rest of us, but who refused to settle for anything less than his absolute best—ever.  Every day, I try my best to live by Borlaug’s commitment and give nothing short of my best effort of adding light to the world.

The experiences I have had with the World Food Prize have changed my life in more ways than I can begin to describe.  I am inspired every day by the work of past laureates, my fellow Borlaug-Ruan Interns, World Food Prize staff, and the eager students aspiring to do their part in facing the world’s greatest challenge. 

I recognize the world will never be perfect, but I will always be the first to tell you that we can do better.  I am excited to take on the challenges that are set out for my generation in climate change, political struggles, and food security.  Whatever the task, I am committed to giving my life to improving the world in whatever capacity I can lend. 

It will take a lot of work, but what’s more Iowan than committing your life to feeding the world?  

“There are no miracles in agricultural production.” – Norman Borlaug

03/19/2018 8:00 AM |Add a comment |Comments (1)
Nick, You are a leader among your peers. You are committed, honest, and self-giving in the Borlaug Mission.

Jody Beimer | | 03/20/2018 9:10 AM
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