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IFAS Matters: A Message from Jack Payne, IFAS SVP
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Dear Friends,

I don’t often miss a chance to meet a World Food Prize winner – the agriculture equivalent of a Nobel. I NEVER miss a chance to hire one.
 
Pedro Sanchez is also a MacArthur genius grant recipient and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. And he was most recently the senior scientist of Columbia University’s Earth Institute’s Center for Food Security. Last winter we had lunch at Mildred’s when he was in town for a conference. He told me, “Jack, I want to come to work for you.”
 
I was so astonished that I thought he was kidding. What he meant was he wanted to work for the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
 
The seed of that desire was planted in a 7-year-old boy in 1940s Havana. It was a boy making his first trip to America. He came for the mangoes. And he came to be with his father, who regularly visited Homestead.
 
Their destination was a place that would later be called the UF/IFAS Tropical Research and Education Center.
 
The boy grew up to become a professor in the 1970s. To prepare for teaching a graduate course at North Carolina State University, he visited Gainesville. UF/IFAS faculty member Hugh Popenoe was regarded as among the foremost experts in the dirt of the tropics.
 
Downloading the contents of Popenoe’s brain and data put Sanchez on a course to write the book on tropical soils. It’s still the leading text on the subject more than four decades after its initial publication.
 
In 2003, Sanchez was back on campus. By this time, he was a World Food Prize laureate, here to deliver the UF/IFAS York lecture.
 
In June, I sat on a veranda in Havana with Sanchez, who wore an orange Gator baseball cap. As we walked the streets he pointed out the abandoned Colegio de la Salle, a decaying ghost of a building where in the 1950s as a high schooler he’d led a student strike. Outside our boarding house, we chanced upon a faded aqua 1949 Buick that Pedro believed had belonged to his family more than half a century ago.
 
He set aside the pain of nostalgia and loss to allow me to stand with him on the stoop of his boyhood home on Calle 86. It had fallen into sad disrepair during the decades since Sanchez’s family fled the nation.
 
Pedro’s attraction to UF/IFAS is a reminder that relationships are built over decades. I didn’t recruit Pedro. Researchers in 1950s Homestead did. Hugh Popenoe did. One of my predecessors -- Mike Martin -- did when he invited Pedro to be the York lecturer. UF/IFAS faculty members Fred Royce and Bill Messina did through decades of outreach to Cuban scientists.
 
Now we are building a legacy for future scientists. Pedro’s arrival drives us toward my goal for posterity to enjoy a strong scientific bridge to Cuba that UF/IFAS helped build at a key historical moment.
 
Pedro’s familial and professional relationships inspire the focus of his work. His long relationship with UF/IFAS has convinced him that we are the place he can make the most impact.
 
We need the bridge to bolster both Florida’s and Cuba’s agriculture. We need it to have Cuba develop into something more akin to Costa Rica than to Cancun. We need it to successfully enlist a nation that imports a majority of its food in our quest to feed 
a projected 9.7 billion people in 2050.
 
The path Pedro has taken to becoming the most promising architect of that U.S.-Cuba scientific bridge arguably started with that 7-year-old boy visiting a UF/IFAS research center.
 
Pedro wants the capstone of his illustrious career to be making that bridge strong enough to bear the weight of the next few decades of politics, population, and profiteering.
 
One of the many reasons IFAS Matters is we cultivate relationships as well as we cultivate crops. All of us build bridges with every interaction we have. Pedro and his wife Cheryl Palm (another scientist with extensive experience in international agriculture) have committed to starting work here on Sept. 1, but we are not waiting until Labor Day to deepen our relationship.
 
It was important to me to travel with Pedro to Havana. His credentials make him a world-class scientist. I see our growing friendship as making him something equally important to posterity: a Gator.

- Jack
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