Iowa: many think of Corn, Soybeans, and the Caucuses but they should also think of Heroes.

Pictured here are Five of Iowa’s greatest Agricultural Heroes. Jessie Field Shambaugh, Herbert Hoover, George Washington Carver, Henry Wallace and Norman Borlaug. Photo Credit: The World Food Prize Foundation

In this caucus season, Iowans and political fanatics from all over the world travel our beautiful, albeit cold, agricultural landscapes following the trail of candidates at coffee shops and Pizza Ranches. While most know Iowa as an agricultural leader, claiming top soybean, corn and egg production globally, few are aware of the incredible agricultural and humanitarian heroes who have helped shape not only our state’s, but also the world’s agricultural backdrop.

These heroes are not always recognized as they should be. They fed the world. They saved billions of lives. They shaped our nation’s history. They changed the world!

So, whether you’re an Iowan or a Caucus visitor, here are 5 Iowa Heroes you should know:

Norman Borlaug — Cresco, IA

Borlaug was an Iowa farm kid who went on to become one of the world’s leading plant scientists, developed a miracle wheat which started the Green Revolution and saved over a BILLION people from massive famine and starvation in Mexico, India and Pakistan.

He won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 and later founded the World Food Prize to celebrate significant achievements of individuals ending food insecurity around the world and to inspire the next generation of agricultural, scientific and humanitarian leaders to end hunger.

In good company: He is one of only 7 people in the world to have received the trifecta: The Nobel Peace Prize, The Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The others include: Mother Teresa, Muhammad Yunus, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Elie Wiesel, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi.

Mahatma Gandhi and George Washington Carver were in close correspondence from 1929 to 1935, sharing both nutritional and inspirational advice.

George Washington Carver — Iowa State University Ames, IA

Born a slave in the south and became an iconic scientist, botanist, artist and inventor. After being turned away from several Universities for the color of his skin, he became the first Black student admitted to attend Iowa State University, complete his undergraduate and Master’s degrees then became the first Black professor at the University as well. He went on to lead the Agriculture Department at Tuskegee University, creating a strong research facility and teaching generations of African-American students over the period of 47 years.

Little known fact about Dr. Carver: Mahatma Gandhi was his pen pal! Well, they wrote letters back and forth between 1929–1935 when Gandhi was seeking his advice on nutrition with his vegetarian diet so he could sustain himself with enough strength for the long struggle that was the Indian Independence Movement ending British Colonialism.

His tombstone reads: “He could have added fortune to fame, but caring for neither, he found happiness and honor in being helpful to the world.”

George Washington Carver and Henry Wallace in Iowa

Henry Wallace — Orient, IA

At a time when racial prejudices prevented George Washington Carver from living in the dorms at ISU, the Wallace family took him in. Carver befriended the young Henry Wallace and taught him everything he knew about plants. Although Wallace was very young he said Carvers mentorship had a life lasting impression on him.

Wallace also studied at Iowa State University, where he was fiercely passionate about scientific agriculture. He later developed hybrid corn and founded a company known today as DuPont Pioneer. He became Secretary of Agriculture in 1933 (just like his father) and Vice President of the United States in 1941. Wallace developed New Deal legislation to help end the long agricultural depression by stabilizing farm prices, conserving soil and controlling production.

Under his leadership at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) they lead groundbreaking research to combat plant and animal disease and develop drought resistant hybrid seeds to increase farm productivity. As a result, the USDA transformed from a small department into one of the largest agencies in Washington D.C. Wallace’s agency was also widely considered to be the best-run department in the federal government.

During WWI and WWII Herbert Hoover spearheaded an expansive hunger relief program for a starving Europe.

Herbert Hoover — West Branch, IA

“Food will win the war” the crying declaration of Iowa native, President Herbert Hoover as he rallied the American people during one of our nation’s darkest times, the Great Depression. Although many think of him as a failed President, I argue he is one of America’s greatest humanitarian heroes.

While working for a Democratic President, Woodrow Wilson, Hoover, a Republican, spearheaded the feeding of millions of children and people during both World Wars, making him one of our countries greatest humanitarian leaders.

Jessie Field Shambaugh — Shenandoah, IA

Shambaugh, the Mother of 4-H, started after school clubs for boys and girls in her one room school house. Those small club meetings grew into the organization we know today as 4-H, with over 6 million members.

Today, 4-H promotes agricultural education to school aged children, providing our country with the necessary building blocks to continue our large involvements in global agriculture.

Fun Fact: It was “Miss Jessie” as the children called her, who introduced the clover design of the current day clover pin that represents the 4-H organization.

As you find yourselves concluding your caucus journeys, I highly encourage you to make your way to the World Food Prize Hall of Laureates to learn more about Iowa’s significant agricultural and humanitarian heroes.

The Hall of Laureates will host a special Caucus Day Open House on Monday February 1st from 9am to 4pm and is open regularly for free public tours every Tuesday and Saturday from 9am to 4pm.

Make sure you check out the Iowa Gallery when you’re there. The Iowa Gallery was specifically designed to tell the story of Iowa’s extensive and varied agricultural and humanitarian heroes, including all those mentioned above. To preserve these incredible stories for future generations, the World Food Prize commissioned a total of 20 original works of art by Iowa artists to be displayed in the Iowa Gallery.

As Iowans, we all hold dearly the pride in our role in “feeding the world” and it is my hope to continue our legacy as such.

The Iowa Gallery, The World Food Prize Hall of Laureates
As a special tribute to Nobel Peace Prize winner and World Food Prize founder Dr. Norman Borlaug, and to provide an enduring foundation for all of the programs he created, the World Food Prize Foundation took on a $29.8 million capital project to restore the century-old Des Moines Public Library Building as the Dr. Norman E. Borlaug World Food Prize Hall of Laureates.
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