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2002-08-17 | 9:41 p.m.

If you ask American children to name their heroes, you will likely hear the names of celebrities, real or imagined, such as Harry Potter or Britney Spears. Some kids will think of sports figures like Venus and Serena Williams, Michael Jordan, or Tiger Woods. And then a few more kids will opt for the classics. You know--Jesus. Martin Luther King. Mom and Dad.

In a Harris poll taken a year ago, adults chose Jesus, Martin Luther King, Colin Powell, John F. Kennedy, Mother Theresa, Ronald Reagan, Abraham Lincoln, John Wayne, Michael Jordan, Bill Clinton, John Glenn, Norman Schwartzkopf, George Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Princess Diana, Dwight Eisenhower, Pope John Paul, George W. Bush (which the Harris people helpfully amend with the phrase "current president"), Jimmy Carter, Nelson Mandela, Jesse Jackson, Tiger Woods, Malcolm X, Thomas Jefferson, Eleanor Roosevelt, Muhammad Ali, Venus Williams, Hillary Clinton, and Neil Armstrong, in that order.

I have some thoughts about that list, but I'm going to hold off on that in order to say something else, namely: Nobody ever talks about the heroes of ...

soil science!

Here's the thing. There is a fellow named Pedro Sanchez, age 61, who is a visiting professor at UC Berkeley's College of Natural Resources. A week ago Sunday he won the $250,000 World Food Prize for "groundbreaking contributions to reducing hunger and malnutrition throughout the developing world."

Sanchez dreamed up soil management techniques that have allowed people to farm depleted land. In Brazil's Cerrado ("wasteland"), 75 million acres of land was reclaimed and planted as a direct result of his work.

In a prepared statement, Sanchez said, "I'm impatient to get hunger over with. There's no room for complacency when you see kids who are malnourished and, as a result, are more susceptible to diseases."

Pedro Sanchez, relatively unsung hero of soil science. Saving the world one hectare at a time.

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