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COLUMNIST: Death of two farmers reflects continued need for ag education

This April was a sad time for me and my family. We said goodbye to "Grandpa Tom", my husband's dad who passed away at 86. Thomas Uselman lived on his family farm all of his working life. He was one of 13 children; he chose to be the farmer. Tom lived a good life. He worked hard. With a gentle hand, he and his wife raised six children. He believed in his church and in being a good neighbor. He paid his bills on time, liked a chicken dinner on Sunday, and always had time for a game of cards. A churchfull of people came to say goodbye to Tom in April - that full church as good a statement as any that Tom lived life right.

Saying goodbye to a loved one is always awfully tough. I find it particularly hard to say goodbye to an old farmer, like Tom was. People like him represent a way of life and a value system that we can ill afford to lose in our society.

Another humble farmer passed away this fall. Norman Borlaug, 95, credited both with being the father of the Green Revolution passed away on Saturday, Sept. 12, 2009 (

Borlaug won the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1970, a prize he accepted in his working clothes, straight from the field, to send the message that in order for work to get done, you have to be willing to do it. Though Borlaug was a Distinguished Professor of International Agriculture at Texas A M, he was not often in a classroom professing. "A practical, energetic, hands-on researcher, Dr. Borlaug worked in the fields alongside farm workers, students, and interns, sharing his knowledge as well as the labor of producing food crops" ( Borlaug spent his prize money teaching students, mostly from "third world" countries, how to farm and thus, how to feed their people. He and his team developed and perfected a form of wheat resistant to rust and other diseases. He is said to have saved more people from starvation in the 20th century than anyone who ever lived.

Borlaug and my father in law Tom were contemporaries and shared similar value systems of hard work, humility, and perseverance. Both felt a responsibility to their communities, Tom's more local; Borlaug's more global. They both lived through the Great Depression and several wars. They both came from Midwestern roots and were products of public education. Borlaug was born on an Iowa farm in 1914. He attended a public university--the University of Minnesota--and earned his bachelor's, master's, and doctorate degrees. Then he got busy feeding the world.

At a time in public education when some may question if agriculture education is still viable, the answer is obvious. Agricultural education is important to anyone who likes to eat now or might like to in the future. A full stomach is certainly part of the recipe for world peace. While we can't at Perham - Dent Public Schools control what the world does, we can make an impact, locally. I am excited about our agriculture education program in Perham - Dent. Our students learn about biotechnology and plant science, stuff that Borlaug professed and principals that Tom practiced his own farm. Local service clubs and organizations helped build our school greenhouse, which will become a "field" classroom, much like Borlaug's.

When we lose the good guys, men like Borlaug and Tom Uselman, I have to remind myself that agriculture as a way of life is not disappearing. But it is certainly changing. Agricultural education is no less important today than it was 20 years ago because you just never know where the investment will pay off; our students who come from rural roots and public education may be the next Tom Uselman or Norman Borlaug. Lord knows we live at a time when this world needs them both.

Please stay tuned for more information and an invitation to see our agricultural education program in action.

You are going to like what you see!