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