No Shade on the Corn

No Shade on the Corn

Apr 14
Richard Vogen, Director, Planning and Research Development

“No, Sir we don’t mess around/our library’s underground/’cuz you can’t throw shade on the corn.”  The Other Guys, a popular campus men’s vocal group has been singing this refrain for a long time. Why? Well our undergraduate library is underground for a reason.

Since this is our sesquicentennial year after all, this story has its roots almost as far back as the beginning. During the first few years of the university’s existence, people with practical farming experience taught the agricultural programs. They also farmed the land that had become part of the institution and used it to demonstrate techniques to students and farmers.

Then in June of 1875, the nation’s foremost professor of agriculture, Manly Miles, arrived in Urbana. He had been a professor at Michigan Agricultural College, later Michigan State University. The next year, 1876, Professor Miles planted three half-acre experimental plots for field crops. He left Illinois in 1876 and a new professor of agriculture, George Morrow, arrived on the scene that same year. Professor Morrow took over the experimental fields, which have borne his name ever since.  

Professor Morrow, the only professor of agriculture at the time, became the first dean of the College of Agriculture in 1878, the same year that we began granting degrees. The following year, he laid out 10 half-acre experimental plots according to the Rothamsted plan in England, incorporating Manly Miles’ original plots. The Morrow Plots became the first continuous experiment in crop rotation in the United States, which has persisted until today on the small remnant of ground on Gregory Drive, east of the undergraduate library. 

So why is the undergraduate library underground?  ’cuz you can’t throw shade on the corn. A tall building would have blocked sunlight for the crops on the experimental field, altering the time and intensity of light available for plant photosynthesis. So when the library was built from 1966-1969, it had to go underground.

For a similar reason, the Carl R. Woese Institute for Genomic Biology, which opened in 2007 just east of the Morrow Plots, was designed with a low enough profile and set back far enough that it does not shade the corn either.

Paraphrasing a comment I once hear Dr. German Bollero make, it went something like this, “When I came to Illinois, I bowed to the Morrow Plots – they are that famous around the world.”  Dr. Bollero is head of the Department of Crop Sciences, and he originally hails from Argentina. The Morrow Plots are a national landmark, the oldest continuous agricultural experimental field in the United States.

Morrow Plots