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How Corn Changed Itself and then Changed Everything Else

A Road Scholar Program by Cynthia Clampitt

About 10,000 years ago, a weedy grass growing in Mexico possessed of a strange trait known as a “jumping gene” transformed itself into a larger and more useful grass-the cereal grass that we would come to know as maize and then corn. Nurtured by Native Americans, this grain would transform the Americas even before First Contact. After First Contact, it spanned the globe, but it also drove westward expansion in North America, building cities and inspiring innovators and entrepreneurs. However, vampires, whiskey, Henry Ford, time zones, Fritos, and the Chicago Bears are also part of this remarkable story. And, as Margaret Visser noted in Much Depends on Dinner, “Without corn, North America-and most particularly modern, technological North America-is inconceivable.” Illinois is the second largest corn producer in the nation, and McLean County, Illinois, is the nation’s number one corn-producing county. People moved to Illinois with the purpose of growing corn. Illinois history is corn history – yet, today, many Illinoisans have little direct experience with the sources of their food and the people who produce it. Even for those who know corn well, there is much to learn about its historic impact and why it is so vital today.

This event is Free and Open to the public. For more information, please contact Sarah Salto at ssalto@lcfpd.org.