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The Birthplace Farm

Welcome to the Birthplace Farm. Norm was born in this small farmhouse on March 25, 1914. The farm was owned by his grandparents, Nels and Emma Borlaug.

"It was Granddad who most influenced my young life. No one else saw any prospect of change. But if he saw a better world ahead, I had to make myself worthy to meet it."  Norman Borlaug

Grandfather's Influence

"From the time Norm could toddle he challenged himself. As he grew, this congenital competitor scampered up the stairs, across the fileds, through the woodlot, down the road.  And he was renowned for jumping the stream that lazed across the grandparents' hundred acres.

Given his combo of charisma, devotion and muscular vitality he projected the presence of a movie star. Everyone who met him knew this kid coul amount to something. Such a pity Fate had chosen him as the sole boy child of a farmer. Keeping his kith and kinfolk from staration was his assigned life. No question, he'd devote his days to teasing survival from the stubborn soil of Saude, Iowa.

Fate in those days could not be eluded, and during the first seven years Nels Borlaug worked overtime to place his first grandson firmly on destiny's designated path. In this, he acted less as grandfather than god." (Vietmeyer)

 

 

Vietmeyer, Noel. Our Daily Bread: The Essential Norman Borlaug, Bracing Books., Lorton, VA, 2011.

Nels and Emma with Oscar, Ned and Henry Borlaug

Nels & Emma with Oscar, Ned and Henry

Humble Beginnings

Norm was born into simple surroundings. The small house was occupied by both his grandparents, Nels and Emma, and his parents, Henry and Clara. When the house was first built, it consisted of only the small 14' by 16' portion at the left in the photo (the section with the porch). The addition at the right was built before Norm was born, but the exact date of construction is uncertain.

This small house would be home for the first eight years of Nom's life, and his grandfather would be his first key influencer. "Nels Borlaug worked overtime to place his first grandson firmly on destiny's designated path. In this, he acted less as grandfather than god." (Vietmeyer)  
 

Vietmeyer, Noel. Our Daily Bread: The Essential Norman Borlaug, Bracing Books., Lorton, VA, 2011.

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Coming to America

On April 4, 1854, Norm’s great grandparents, Ole Olson Dybevig and his wife Solveig Thomasdaughter Rinde emigrated from Norway to America. They sailed across the Atlantic with a group of Norwegian families. Their exodus was brought on by

  • a potato famine caused by blight

  • a population growing faster than the food production

  • they were struggling farmers trying to survive on a small strip of land

  • they came looking for fertile soil and a place to start a new life

 

They came from Feios, Norway, near the Borlaug settlement on the Sogne Fjord. A journey by sailing ship rather than by steamer took 4 to 6 weeks, but it was much less expensive. Because they came from a farm area by the name of Borlaug, they took it as their last name.

They first settled on a small farm near Green Bay, Wisconsin, where their first two sons, Ole and Thomas, were born. They moved to a slightly larger farm near Norway Grove, Wisconsin where Nels was born on October 25, 1859. A few weeks after Nels was born, the family moved by covered wagon to Vermillion South Dakota where they lived for three years.

 

Due to the 1862 Sioux Indian Uprising in Minnesota and threats that a similar outbreak might occur in the Dakotas, they moved once again, this time to Northeast Iowa. They settled on a small farm near the Little Turkey River Settlement (now Saude). This area was often referred to as “Little Norway” due to the number of settlers from Norway.

(Information for this page from “The Man Who Fed the World,” by Leon Hesser and Wikipedia, “Borlaug” )

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Additional Resources

By the end of the 1860s, there were more than 40,000 Norwegian immigrants in the United States. Norm's great grandparents were part of this group. They ultimately settled near the Little Turkey River about two miles northwest of Saude, Iowa. (Image is of Grandfather Nels' 1915 barn.)     

The resources below give additional information about Norwegian settlement in America.

Norwegian Immigration to America

The Norwegians are considered to be the first Europeans to visit North America. The Viking explorer Leif Ericson established a colony in what is now Newfoundland, Canada, 500 years before Columbus. Learn More

Vesterheim Museum

Learn more about Norwegian settlement in America and Northeast Iowa. Vesterheim (means Western Home) is the largest repository of information and artifacts in the U.S. concerning Norwegian settlement.  Learn More

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