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Becky: Hi everyone! Welcome back to EnglishClass101.com. This is Culture Class, Season 3, Lesson 25 - The Top 5 Most Influential Thinkers in Food and Agriculture. I’m Becky.
Eric: And I’m Eric. This is our last lesson of this series. What did you think, listeners? Leave a message letting us know on our Facebook page.
Becky: So Eric, what are we looking at in this lesson?
Eric: In this lesson, we'll look at 5 thinkers that have been very influential in the industry of food and agriculture in the USA. These are the people who have made the industry what it is today.
Becky: That's right. And since this is our last lesson in the series, let's make it a great one! Let’s get to it! Number 5 of our Top 5 Most Influential Thinkers in Food and Agriculture is Robert Fraley.
Eric: Robert Fraley is a microbiologist and senior vice president at Monsanto. He is specifically responsible for the development of new crop chemicals and biotechnology products.
Becky: Monsanto is the world’s leader in crop and food biotechnology. It was among the first companies to create seeds that could withstand pesticides.
Eric: Monsanto has hundreds of patents on genetically modified plants and seeds, many of which Fraley helped develop.
Becky: He has received many awards for his discoveries and inventions, including the National Medal of Technology from President Clinton.
Eric: Fraley is influential because he is the world’s foremost leader in biotechnology and genetically modified foods.
Becky: This is important for many reasons, and it’s also important to point out that there are scientists who do not believe the techniques Monsanto uses are safe.
Eric: However, to date, science has not been able to find anything hazardous about the procedures that Monsanto uses. Further research may show different results, but for now, it appears to be safe.
Becky: Fraley has been an advocate for genetically modified foods for over 10 years and has contributed more than 100 publications to the current knowledge of genetically engineered food.
Eric: So who’s our next thinker?
Becky: Number 4 of our Top 5 Most Influential Thinkers in Food and Agriculture is John Deere.
Eric: John Deere was a blacksmith and the inventor of the steel plow.
Becky: Now that may not sound important but, back in his day, all plows were made from iron.
Eric: Besides being heavy, they got dull very easily, which means they couldn’t be used in hard dirt.
Becky: This was particularly important in dry areas like the American Midwest. The ground was fertile, but very difficult to plow.
Eric: John Deere lived a long time ago, but his influence is still felt today, first and foremost from the fact that the American midwest is still producing crops.
Becky: And secondly, probably more significantly, is that he put his soul into his products and into his company. He believed in always making the best products possible and making sure they would last.
Eric: His company still exists today and is called the John Deere company. It is widely regarded as the best agricultural equipment manufacturer in the United States and many say the world.
Becky: His motto of always doing his best has also affected thousands if not millions of farmers over the past century. Today it is the world’s largest manufacturer of agricultural equipment.
Eric: Who’s next on our list?
Becky: Number 3 of our Top 5 Most Influential Thinkers in Food and Agriculture is Cyrus McCormick.
Eric: Cyrus McCormick is widely regarded as the inventor of the mechanical reaper. A reaper is a person or a machine that harvests crops. In this case, McCormick invented the first machine that could harvest crops.
Becky: Now, several other people had invented or created machines to help in harvesting crops before McCormick. However, none of the other machines were patented, which means that they were never registered officially as inventions.
Eric: In fact, McCormick’s reaper competed with several other reapers of a similar style. However, McCormick’s business practices were more sound and the other reaper companies went out of business.
Becky: For that matter, Cyrus McCormick wasn’t the only inventor of the reaper. It was originally designed by his father, Robert McCormick. However, his father couldn’t make it work.
Eric: Cyrus McCormick, with the help of several other people, was able to make the reaper functional, practical, and dependable.
Becky: Many people refer to the McCormick reaper as the invention that made bread cheap.
Eric: This is very important, because while many other inventions were very useful, for example electric light, people could live without them. They couldn't live without food.
Becky: For that reason, even though the McCormick reaper was very simple by today’s standards, it began a new agricultural revolution. That agricultural revolution made food prices drop and so, more and more people were able to afford this basic food.
Eric: Today, the reaper has been replaced by the combine or combine harvester. A combine harvester is a very large machine that reaps, or harvests, and threshes or separates, the crops into their desired format.
Becky: Isn’t that interesting? When we look back at important thinkers and important inventions in history, they're most often small things that over time are improved and perfected and turn into much larger and much more important things.
Eric: That’s very true. Who’s next on our list?
Becky: Number two of our top five most influential thinkers in food and agriculture is George Washington Carver.
Eric: George Washington Carver is a well known American botanist and inventor.
Becky: he is responsible for popularizing the use of peanuts.
Eric: How did he actually do that?
Becky: Carver was a professor at the Tuskegee Institute and was in charge of the agricultural department. He was also from the southern United States.
Eric: That’s right. His experience with farming in the southern United States is what led to many of his publications about peanuts and sweet potatoes. But to be completely fair, George Washington Carver didn’t invent very many things. In fact, he only held three patents in his entire life, none of which ever became commercially popular.
Becky: However, he’s most well known for his hundreds of publications about crop rotation, soil improvement, and crop diversification.
Eric: He lived in the deep South where the main crop grown was cotton. Cotton cultivation is very nutrient intense and depletes nitrogen from the soil. Over time, constant cultivation of cotton can cause the land to become progressively less fertile.
Becky: This was one of the main reasons for Carver's focus on peanuts and other crops to be used in rotation with cotton. Peanuts, in particular, restore nitrogen to the soil, which then makes the cotton grow better afterwards.
Eric: Again, crop rotation was not a new idea, neither were peanuts or sweet potatoes. However, many of the farmers in the South grew only cotton in order to earn money and survive. Carver wanted to change this, particularly after several bug infestations destroyed cotton throughout the South.
Becky: This left most of the small farmers destitute and unable to survive.
Eric: To encourage crop rotation with peanuts, sweet potatoes, or soybeans, Carver compiled and distributed hundreds of recipes with ways to prepare them for human consumption as well as for practical use.
Becky: For example, one of his first publications described the use of peanut oil for cooking as well as for skin lotions.
Eric: Many of those recipes are still found in cookbooks distributed and published today, and peanut oil is frequently used in many types of shampoos, hair creams, and skin lotions.
Becky: Again, he didn’t invent any of these things, but he brought all of these ideas to the public eye.
Eric: His ideas were very useful, practical, and beneficial to the south and have been useful to millions of people all over the world since.
Becky: Okay, who is our number one?
Eric: Number 1 of our top 5 most influential thinkers in food and agriculture is Norman Borlaug.
Becky: Norman Borlaug was the principal developer of several particular types of wheat that are disease-resistant and high-yield.
Eric: Plant diseases are a major reason for crop failure and one of the many reasons why farming can be risky. If you put all your effort into one crop and then it gets a disease, you don’t have any food or any money.
Becky: It’s also important for the crop to give a good yield. A yield refers to the amount of crop you actually harvest. For example, one wheat field might “yield” 5 tons of wheat.
Eric: The wheat that Borlaug developed was a high-yield wheat. In other words, you would get 7 tons instead of 5 from the same field.
Becky: Exactly. This is very important in places where food production is insufficient for the population, like it was in Mexico in the 1950s, or like China today.
Eric: It all started in Mexico where wheat yields were very low and the President of Mexico wanted to improve them. So he negotiated with several organizations in the world and created an organization to improve wheat yields.
Becky: Borlaug was quickly put on the team and worked in Mexico developing high yield wheat for over 35 years and succeeded. The varieties of wheat he developed are now used throughout the world and have saved millions of people from starvation.
Eric: Borlaug was one of only six people to ever receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Becky: He is sometimes called the “Father of the Green Revolution."
Eric: Okay. That just about does it for this lesson and for the series.
Becky: That's right! I think it was fun, and we learned a ton of stuff.
Eric: We sure did! Listeners, thanks for coming along with us as we learned all about business in America.
Becky: Remember to leave us a comment letting us know how you liked this series. And we’ll see you in another series. Bye!
Eric: See you!