Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces Induction of Cesar Chavez, Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton to U.S. Department of Agriculture Hall of Heroes

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Release No. 0307.15
Office of Communications (202)720-4623
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack Announces Induction of Cesar Chavez, Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton to U.S. Department of Agriculture Hall of Heroes

WASHINGTON, November 5, 2015 – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack today announced two new inductees, Cesar Chavez and Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton, into the U.S. Department of Agriculture Hall of Heroes. Established in September 2000, the Hall of Heroes recognizes those who have had a lasting impact on agriculture and America's rural communities. The honorees will be recognized permanently by plaques in the entry hall of USDA's Jamie L. Whitten Federal Building.

"Both Cesar Chavez and Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton dedicated their public and private lives to improving various facets of food and agriculture," said Vilsack. "The abundant, resilient and diverse food supply that Americans are fortunate to rely on today is a direct result of their commitments and innovations, and I am honored to add these inspiring individuals among USDA's Hall of Heroes."

Cesar Chavez (1927-1993) was a prominent union leader and labor organizer. Shaped by early experiences as a migrant worker, Chavez committed his life to improving working conditions for farm workers.

In 1962, Cesar Chavez founded the National Farm Workers Association. In a strike against grape growers in California, the Association joined with the Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee, and the two organizations later merged to create the United Farm Workers.

"This year marks the 50th anniversary of the hunger strike Chavez led to bring justice and equality to the people who feed America," Vilsack said. "Today, USDA is humbled to honor to Cesar Chavez, the man who led and organized peaceful, positive change for American farmworkers."

Emphasizing nonviolent methods, Chavez rallied for justice through boycotts, marches, and hunger strikes, securing pay raises and improving conditions for farm workers across the United States. Today, USDA continues to help farmworkers through programs that ensure they work and live in safe environments.

Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton is one of the founders of modern plant biotechnology. Often referred to as the "Queen of Agrobacterium," Chilton has dedicated her career to the development of plant biotechnology. Her innumerable contributions have made a lasting impact on the agricultural industry, breaking scientific and gender barriers, paving the way for many.

"Dr. Chilton's research has forever changed the way we conduct plant research and her groundbreaking accomplishments have shaped the way genetic plant research is conducted today," said Vilsack. "I am pleased to honor Dr. Mary-Dell Chilton for her leadership and tremendous contributions to the field of agriculture."

In 1983, Chilton produced the first transgenic plant, demonstrating plant genomes could be altered more precisely than previously thought. Her recent research at Syngenta has resulted in improving the ability of plants to resist insects and disease, tolerate extreme environmental conditions and deliver traits to enhance the value of crops.

Past inductees of the USDA Hall of Heroes include Norm Berg, Former Chief, Natural Resources Conservation Service; Thomas Monroe Campbell, First Black Extension Agency in the United States; Justin Smith Morrill, Father of the Land-Grant College System; Senator George S. McGovern, Advocate for Fighting Hunger; Senator Tom Harkin, Advocate for the Agriculture Community; Hugh Hammond Bennett, Father of Soil Conservation; George Washington Carver, Father of Chemurgy; Senator Robert Dole, National Leader of Nutrition and Farming Programs; Isabelle Kelley, Co-Founder of the National School Lunch Program; California Interagency Incident Management Team 3, Pacific Northwest Incident Management Team 3, and the Southwest Area Incident Management Team, first responders dispatched to work alongside local, state, and federal agencies on September 11, 2001; and Smokey Bear, America's First Fire Prevention Bear.