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Let's keep smiling

I've smiled every morning for the past six days.
I smile because every morning, I check the Farmfluencer website and see that Montgomery County 4-H member Kendall Knodle's amazing video is still in the running to win.

I smile because it's a good video, based on science, featuring University of Illinois' top crop researchers who are searching for answers to feeding the world's growing population.

I smile because Kendall is 16, and in addition to doing all the things 16-year-olds do, he's out climbing on his tractor and dreaming of saving the world.

"Research is actually going to crack the code on how to produce enough food in a reasonable amount of time on a reasonable amount of land to help feed everyone," said Kim Kidwell, U of I dean of the College of Agricultural, Consumer, and Environmental Sciences. "I think another part of that [solution] is supporting people in learning how to grow food where they are."

That's another reason I smile. For his video, Kendall gained access to some really smart people, such as ACES Dean Kidwell, and let them do his talking, just like good ag communicators do. So, how do we feed a growing population?

From Kendall's video: "We know we can't do it on the same kind of traits that were done in the first green revolution," said Don Ort, U of I plant biology and crop sciences professor and RIPE deputy director. "The challenge to research is to find a new set of traits that is able and up to the challenge. We think here at the University of Illinois within the RIPE project, redesigning and re-engineering photosynthesis to be more efficient … has the capacity to meet the challenge."

RIPE, Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (for sustainable increases in crop yield) was established in 2012. With $70 million in funding from private donors, RIPE researchers work to solve food insecurity by engineering improvements to plant photosynthesis.

"We have to increase yields dramatically to keep pace with the need, in a time where we're going to see drastic changes in weather and climate," said Amanda Cavanagh, postdoctoral researcher at U of I. The goal is to ensure we have affordable food to maintain a healthy society.

In a growing season which hasn't had a lot to smile about, Kendall reminds us all that hard work, determination, and grit will guide our solution to food insecurity.

Let's keep on smiling. Vote daily through June 15 for Kendall's video at Scroll until you find Kendall's "How Will We Feed the World" video. Each day, two participants are eliminated. It's up to us to help Kendall stand tall until the end.


Judy Mae Bingman, University of Illinois Extension Marketing and Communications Manager

Judy uses powerful words and photography to tell the Extension story. She is a skilled communication strategist and storyteller with demonstrated success in building teams and creating strong organizational brand identities that deepen Extension’s impact among key audiences, build brand loyalty, strengthen employee talent, and expand public engagement. She is a frequent conference presenter at the National Association of Extension 4-H Agents Conference and helps Extension staff across the nation tell compelling stories.