Farmers and artists share something in common: They devote themselves to acts of creation.
Farmers plant seeds and nurture them into crops that fill fields that otherwise may lay barren. Artists also render something out of nothing: Michelangelo saw the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel and made it beautiful.
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it,” he reportedly once said.
We might also say that every acre of soil has a harvest inside it, and it is the task of the farmer to grow it.
I was reminded of the connection between farmers and artistry last year when President Trump proposed the creation of the National Garden of American Heroes while standing at Mount Rushmore . That idea was accompanied with a list including more than 200 names, now published, of potential heroes: From the conventional, such as Abraham Lincoln, to the familiar (Martin Luther King Jr. and Ronald Reagan) as well as the idiosyncratic (Kobe Bryant, Whitney Houston, and Steve Jobs).
The dictionary defines heroes as a “person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements or noble qualities”. Most of the American heroes listed didn’t intend to be heroes. They did the right thing at the right time.
Harriet Tubman, who is a personal hero of mine was included on the list. When I was a girl, I read a book about Tubman and I’ve never forgotten her story—a courageous leader escaping from bondage herself and leading others to freedom on the Underground Railroad.
I am so pleased that the list of American heroes included a significant group of farmers, such as George Washington—our founding father who was also a founding farmer. Two famous farmers who shared his name made the list, too: Booker T. Washington, whose Tuskegee Institute maintained a farm, and George Washington Carver, who worked at the Tuskegee Institute and became a leading crop scientist.
Another great farmer hero joined them on the list: Johnny “Appleseed” Chapman, the folk hero who traveled the Midwest and planted nurseries of cider apples.
As a farmer, the most significant individual slated to be honored in the proposed National Garden of American Heroes, in my opinion, would be a sculpture of America’s greatest farmer, Norman Borlaug.
Born on an Iowa farm in 1914, Borlaug became an agricultural scientist who today is widely regarded as the father of the Green Revolution—a series of innovations that unleashed the productivity of farmers around the world, especially in developing countries. His efforts have been credited with saving a billion people from starvation. In 1970, he won the Nobel Peace Prize, an award that often goes to political leaders but in this case honored a man who raised crops. He died in 2009, at the age of 95.
Dr. Borlaug did not do what he did to be a hero, yet he discovered the art in his science and did the right thing at the right time.
I was privileged to meet Dr. Borlaug one time. I served on the board of Agriculture Future of America, which encourages young people with scholarships, training, and career opportunities. Each year, AFA recognizes an individual with its “Leader in Agriculture” award, and in 2002 it went to Dr. Norman Borlaug.
His humility struck me. He was soft-spoken. He expressed amazement and interest in the students and their interests: We had brought him to our event so that he could inspire them, and he did, but it turned out that they also inspired him.
No wonder many farmers like to think of themselves as members of “Team Borlaug.”
People tend to think of farmers as practical, and they’re right to do so: We’re more interested in action than in abstraction. But there is an art to agriculture. In American heroes like Borlaug, we see an excellent example of the role that creativity and imagination always have played in the business of food production.
I’m hopeful that the proposed National Garden of American Heroes will become an honorable reality. A flowering and productive garden to reflect, remember, be restored, and recognize American heroes—a place to feed the body and the soul.
Nominations are being accepted for candidates to the 2021 Global Farmer Network Roundtable and Leadership Training. Tentatively scheduled to be held during summer 2021, the next Roundtable will include a virtual component prior to meeting in person in Brussels, Belgium. The face-to-face event date is dependent on when travel is allowed and people feel safe. Learn more about the event here.
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