The World Food Prize Foundation

The Borlaug Blog

What Comes From the Ordinary

By Francine Barchett
Borlaug-Ruan International Intern

“Really, Iowa? Why Iowa?” When I told my high school friends I would be going to a food symposium in Iowa, their responses ranged from amazement to amusement to borderline confusion. Most pictured Iowa as a vast and isolated wilderness of corn and tractors, yet one thought outside the box when he blurted out, “Iowa is that state with wrestling matches!” Whatever people said, the message remained clear: Iowa is so… ordinary. Why Iowa?

I grew up in southwestern Michigan, a simple rural community not unlike Iowa. Although fruit and vegetable fields surrounded me, I never seriously considered pursuing agriculture. To me, the old, slightly overweight man sitting on a tractor or bending his back to check-up on his crops from time-to-time—that was a farmer. I don’t blame myself for my narrow-mindedness because no one taught me to think otherwise. Agriculture just seemed so…ordinary.

When I participated in the Global Youth Institute in Iowa, I discovered that Iowa, agriculture, and the World Food Prize were anything but ordinary. My mind raced in one thousand directions as I discovered that agriculture involved much more than my stereotyped male farmers. It was the most diverse, impactful, and unifying topic I had ever witnessed. After joining global leaders and peers to discuss pressing food issues, I realized that there is nothing more beautiful, more extraordinary, than ensuring everyone receives adequate food to lead healthy, nourishing, and fulfilling lives.

Suddenly, it seemed like I was on top of the world. There I was, a small-town girl graduating from a 13-student class, committing to Cornell University to study International Agriculture and Rural Development. I was, ready to be a Borlaug hunger fighter, my family beaming with pride. Soon enough, I was snoozing on my India-bound plane for my Borlaug-Ruan internship, cheerily dreaming about my future research project.

Clearly, I was an optimist, and I still am, but what my World Food Prize internship taught me is that extraordinary accomplishments never begin extraordinarily. They arise out of the most ordinary of circumstances, utilizing passageways more difficult than we expect. Entering my internship, I resolved to make a strong, meaningful impact, but I had never written an official research report, much less used Microsoft Excel. I also didn’t realize that my research findings would be so open-ended. After interviewing villagers about the government sanitation campaigns and their household’s health and nutrition, I was concerned by how male-controlled and politically and culturally influenced their lives were.

However, that wasn’t all of what I experienced. No one foretold me that I would befriend a girl whose early marriage would never allow her to attend a university, nor did anyone predict that I would interview a woman who only owned two plates to feed her large family. I look back to the woman whose husband continually pressured her to produce children until a boy arrived, and the tool it took on her, realizing that there are large problems in the world.

I encountered many problems that were beyond any expectation, but instead that were beyond any expectation, but instead of believing I couldn’t do anything more, I realized that I could still do a lot. I found that the most ordinary things, like wearing a traditional saree, greeting the locals in their language, playing with the village children, and surprising one family with plates, do make a difference. I learned that the power of my pen and the words of my mouth cannot change the world, but they can certainly influence many. I then determined that my degree would build off this experience, so I could work on behalf of individuals like my Indian friends, who appear ordinary yet have extraordinary potential to rise above their circumstances.

Since my Borlaug-Ruan internship last year, I have gone on to work at the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture and ILRI in Kenya and present about college food insecurity at a Taiwanese conference, events which exceeded my wildest dreams. Throughout it all, I try to remember people like Norman Borlaug and places like Iowa, where at the surface; each is ordinary and arising from humble beginnings and known or little besides crops or crop-breeding. At the surface each is ordinary, arising from humble beginnings and known for little besides crops or crop-breeding. Yet, if you take a panoramic view of what each has accomplished, you would be inclined to select a more suitable word. Agriculture and food security matter. Individuals, families, and communities matter. I believe my work matters. There may only be so much that I can do, but I know I can do something. 

03/05/2018 8:00 AM |Add a comment |Comments (1)
Francine; I was very moved by your extraordinarily powerful blog. It is just this type of feedback from students like yourself who participate in our youth education programs that is so rewarding to all of us who work all year to provide such opportunities. Please keep up your exceptional efforts. As the anniversary of Dr. Borlaug's birth approaches later this month, you have already given him the best possible present with this report about your new path to address global hunger. Congratulations on an exceptional written contribution. Ken Quinn

Ambassador Kenneth Quinn | | 03/05/2018 7:28 PM
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