39 North Innovation District Plan Unveiled
The Science in Our Food
Back to Results
Thank you all for being here and, Jim Carrington, thank you for your hospitality and for the Danforth Plant Science Center being our hosts for what is we think just a great day and a very exciting event.
Yesterday, the board of trustees of the Danforth Foundation met and at that meeting we voted to grant $70 million to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. That’s “seven, zero”. Previously, if you add up the past grants of $156 million that would make a total of 226 and the $70 million is the vast majority of the remaining assets of the Danforth Foundation because for some period of time we’ve been spending out of our assets. So another thing we did yesterday was to vote to begin the process of dissolving the Danforth Foundation. And that is a process which will be completed on about May 31st of this year. We are retaining in the Foundation enough money to meet our commitments and also to pay our bills. But the remainder at the time of dissolution will also be turned over to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center and we anticipate that that will be approximately an additional $5 million. It’s kind of like being at an auction. If you keep encouraging me…… but there’s no more to go higher so … ! It’s all gone.
The Danforth Foundation has had a very proud tradition and it’s had a variety of interests over the past years in American higher education, in international education, in minority education, education at the elementary and secondary school level and since 1997 our focus has been exclusively on the betterment of the Saint Louis region. And the thinking behind our decision yesterday is that there is absolutely nothing better that we could think of to do for the Saint Louis region than to transfer our assets to the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center.
Saint Louis, in my opinion, should never settle for just being another rust-belt city desperately trying to keep its head above water. We shouldn’t be satisfied with anything less than being great and being a leader. And in plant science that’s what we are becoming…a leader. And the prospects of the future are absolutely great. A leader in an area which holds enormous economic promise for our region because it is going to create jobs and it is going to create wealth in Saint Louis.
But beyond that think of the great world needs that will be served by the Center…feeding a hungry world. I don’t know how many of you have seen real hunger. I have on the border of Cambodia and in rural Mozambique with children with flies on their faces and miles and miles of dead trees because people have tried to subsist on eating bark. So a great mission of this Center is to feed a hungry world.
And then there is the whole question of improving the environment. Of being able to raise food on less land with less water and with less pesticides. And the great effort of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center of producing alternatives to fossil fuels which will be so important to the United States and so important to the world.
At the creation of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, it was recognized that this Center builds on a competitive advantage that we have in our region…our location. That we are right at the heart of agricultural America; we are blessed with great institutions; our great universities; Monsanto, the Missouri Botanical Garden. And the Center takes advantage of that and builds on it. And in the 12-year history of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, this Center has become a national leader in plant science and a central player in using plants for fuel production.
Now as far as the Danforth Foundation is concerned, its origin was in 1927. It never really had the concept of existing in perpetuity. It was always, and particularly in recent years, our idea that the foundation should not continue forever but that it should try to do things that were really big in a finite period of time.
I want to say something about the history of the Foundation and a little bit about the creators of the Danforth Foundation.
It was created in 1927 by our grandfather, William H. Danforth. William H. Danforth was born and grew up in Charleston, Missouri, in the Missouri boot-heel. He came to Saint Louis. He started the feed business from scratch. He sold horse and mule feed up and down the Mississippi River on horseback himself. His concept was that in good times and bad times people had to eat. And he was going to be in the business of feeding people.
William H. Danforth and his son, our father, dedicated their whole lives, spent their whole working lives, in Ralston Purina Company. They were two exceptionally unpretentious people. In “Who’s Who in America”, when the occupation of the people whose names were in “Who’s Who” were listed, my grandfather always put down under his listing, “miller”. That was how he saw himself…as a grain miller. And old-time Purina employees, if you talked to them about their business, and bear in mind that the business of the old Ralston Purina Company was about 90% animal feed and about 10% breakfast cereal and that was it. And when you talked to them about “What’s the purpose of Ralston Purina Company?” The purpose of Ralston Purina Company as far as they were concerned was to feed the world. And they said so in so many words.
What today is what I would call “corp-speak”…you know, the way businesspeople speak…was not really the way they spoke. Because the idea now with businesspeople (and rightly so; you certainly can’t criticize them for it) they talk about the bottom line or they talk about increasing shareholder value and the importance of that, and, of course, it is important, but I never heard my father talk about bottom line or increasing shareholder value. And the old-time Purina people, most of them were from farm backgrounds, they would not talk that way.
I can remember that down at the old…there used to be a feed mill down on 8th and Gratiot and it blew up unfortunately in a terrible tragedy. But you’d go down to the office of Ralston Purina and you’d have this wonderful aroma of soybeans. It was an ag company. And my dad never said “I’m going down to the office.” He always said “I’m going to the mill.” And he told me one time that they took a poll of employees, “Do you want to move the office out to Clayton?” And the overwhelming answer was “No! Because we want to be able to tell our relatives and our friends, ‘We’re going down to the mill.’ not that ‘We’re going out to the office.’”
And our father had a ...it was kind of a wooden bin in his office at one point and they had the old phonograph records and people would come in and smash the records. They were going for “breaking records”. But the records didn’t have anything to do with earnings-per-share or profit or revenue. It had to do with tonnage. I mean that’s the business they were in…just producing tonnage of food.
So agriculture, feed, food, producing food…that was what our family was all about. And that was the origin of the Danforth Foundation. It was created with Ralston Purina Company stock by a man from Charleston, Missouri who was in the business of feeding people.
So Ralston Purina Company is long gone. And the Danforth Foundation will disappear in a few months.
I have to say that neither William H. Danforth nor Donald Danforth spent very much time talking about by-gone days or the past. One of our grandfather’s favorite questions was “What next?”
And the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is what’s next. It does build on the tradition of our father and our grandfather. It does build on the tradition of Ralston Purina Company but it points to the future. And it points to the future in a new and exciting, enduring, promising way. So we think that the announcement that we are transferring the assets of the Danforth Foundation to the Plant Science Center is just an absolutely great thing to do.
Thank you very much for being here.