Gilchrest wants to leave a legacy of knowl­edge

Kent County News - - FRONT PAGE - By DANIEL DIVILIO ddivilio@thekent­coun­tynews.com

CH­ESTER­TOWN — Though by his own ad­mis­sion, Wayne Gilchrest, for­mer con­gress­man turned di­rec­tor of the Sas­safras En­vi­ron­men­tal Ed­u­ca­tion Cen­ter, is not a sci­en­tist, he aims to leave a legacy of knowl­edge gleaned from top sources be­hind for the next gen­er­a­tion.

“I want to say first off that I am not a farmer. I am not a chemist. I’m not a bi­ol­o­gist. In essence, I am not a sci­en­tist,” Gilchrest told a packed room in the Kitchen at the Im­pe­rial last week.

Gilchrest was giv­ing a talk Oct. 24 about agri­cul­ture and the en­vi­ron­ment hosted by the Kent County chap­ter of the League of Women Vot­ers.

He spoke about the im­por­tance of pho­to­syn­the­sis and the car­bon cy­cle in sus­tain­ing life on the planet. He also ad­dressed con­cerns over ge­net­i­cally mod­i­fied or­gan­isms, com­monly re­ferred to as GMOs.

As a mem­ber of Con­gress, Gilchrest dealt with agri­cul­ture pol­icy af­fect­ing mil­lions of acres and tens of thou­sands of farm­ers, he said. Be­cause they so heav­ily re­lied on his in­tegrity, he sought out the best sources of in­for­ma­tion to make de­ci­sions.

He urged at­ten­dees to seek out their own sources of in­for­ma­tion, not just in the li­brary, but on the com- puter as well, which can de­liver scholas­tic in­for­ma­tion from around the world.

Gilchrest said the ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams at SEEC, lo­cated at Turner’s Creek, aim to give chil­dren a frame of ref­er­ence for what the real world — the nat­u­ral world — looks like. He held up a cup of dirt, ex­plain­ing how our world de­pends on the soil and the micro­organ­isms liv­ing it.

The fun­da­men­tals of our civ­i­liza­tion are based on what we teach, Gilchrest said. He said the chil­dren then carry that on to the next gen­er­a­tion.

“So the more we know, the more they will know. So our legacy, in a sense, is knowl­edge. And knowl­edge is the key to solv­ing prob­lems. And knowl­edge is the ba­sis upon which wis­dom can nur­ture,” Gilchrest said.

Gilchrest said his cup of dirt likely con­tained more micro­organ­isms than there are peo­ple liv­ing on the planet. Us­ing ex­am­ples of plants from SEEC, he showed the evo­lu­tion of corn from a col­lec­tion of tiny seeds wrapped in a leaf to ears of in­creas­ingly larger sizes, helped along by hu­mans

who picked the big­gest ker­nels from the crops to grow in the fol­low­ing sea­son.

“Se­lec­tive breed­ing is a man­ner in which peo­ple have used to in­crease the yield and come up with a bet­ter crop that is more re­sis­tant to in­sects, dis­ease or drought,” Gilchrest said.

He spoke about im­proved sci­ence by com­pa­nies like Mon­santo, which has a fa­cil­ity near Galena. He told of how corn’s ge­netic ma­te­rial was al­tered to fend off one par­tic­u­lar in­sect by caus­ing the pest to have di­ges­tive fail­ure when it ate any of the crop.

“At SEEC, we are lucky enough to have (Univer­sity of Mary­land) Ag Ex­ten­sion peo­ple and the Mon­santo re­search fa­cil­ity just over in Galena help us with our gar­den revery year,” Gilchrest said.

He said that gar­den helps SEEC show chil­dren how agri­cul­ture evolved, through the per­spec­tive of Amer­i­can In­di­ans.

There are a num­ber of con­cerns over the use of GMOs and re­search by com­pa­nies like Mon­santo. Some were raised by at­ten­dees at the Kitchen.

Gilchrest rec­og­nized the con­cerns and agreed on the need for vig­i­lance. He ac­knowl­edged that there were mis­steps in the past.

He said GMOs can feed the world. He said ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tions have been oc­cur­ring for ages.

“A lot of the corn grown in Kent County is GMO corn. Much of what you have been eat­ing since the early (19)90s are GMO prod­ucts,” he said. “Is there a risk? The an­swer to that is ‘yes.’ Do we throw up our hands and say, ‘We have to ban this?’”

He said that is what hap­pened to noted as­tronomer and math­e­ma­ti­cian Galileo Galilei in the 1600s.

Kale, broc­coli, cau­li­flower and brus­sels sprouts are ex­am­ples of veg­eta­bles made by man through se­lec­tive breed­ing, Gilchrest said. He said all toma­toes were once the size of cherry toma­toes.

“So we can feed the world by un­der­stand­ing nature’s artistry and nature’s de­sign. And take the risk, but have the con­fi­dence and in­tegrity when you’re tak­ing that risk,” Gilchrest said.

PHOTO BY DANIEL DIVILIO

Wayne Gilchrest speaks about agri­cul­ture and the en­vi­ron­ment at a League of Women Vot­ers event held Oct. 24 in the Kitchen at the Im­pe­rial.

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