Colorado State University Celebrates 10th Anniversary of Thornton-Massa Lecture, Featuring Food Origins, on Nov. 15

Note to Reporters: A photo of Steve Baenziger is available with the news release at

Ever wonder what Italian food tasted like before Europeans discovered the tomato? Or why Englishmen smoked tobacco out of pipes while Spaniards preferred cigarettes?

Today, few people in the industrialized world know anything about the history of the food on their dinner plates. The Colorado State University College of Agricultural Sciences and College of Natural Science’s 10th annual Thornton-Massa Lecture – on Nov. 15 – will address “The Origin of the Plants on your Plate”, featuring Steve Baenziger, University of Nebraska professor.

The event, which will be 2- 4:30 p.m. in the Lory Student Center Main Ballroom, is open to the public. A reception will follow the lecture.

Reservations are suggested at (970)491-7013 by Nov. 6.

Baenziger is well-known for his research contributions in the small grains breeding world. His work emphasizes the need to improve winter wheat, barley and other crops to feed the world’s growing population. Baenziger, along with other University of Nebraska researchers, recently became part of a national scientific team that was awarded a $5 million grant to develop genetic technologies to advance U.S. wheat quality and disease resistance.

Baenziger’s talk will be followed by a panel of CSU experts discussing the origin of a few household foods. Panelists include:

• Professor Patrick Byrne, corn specialist from the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences;
• Professor Cecil Stushnoff, potato specialist from the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture;
• Professor Mark Brick, beans specialist from the Department of Soil and Crop Sciences;
• Professor Pat Bedinger, tomato specialist from the Department of Biology;
• Associate Professor Stephen Menke, grapes specialist from the Western Colorado Research Center; and
• Christina Walters, seed preservation specialist from the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation.

Following the program, light appetizers showcasing the foods discussed in the panel will be served. Menu options include: pistachio crisps topped with mascarpone cheese and grape compote; grilled tomato and basil flatbread pizza; and fire roasted corn dip with blue corn chips.

Previous Thornton-Massa lecture speakers include: Paul Ehrlich, a butterfly specialist and biologist from Stanford University; Rebecca Nelson, a leading researcher on improving disease resistance in crops; Dennis Gonsalves, an expert on plant viral diseases; and Steve Tanksley, a geneticist at Cornell University.

The Thornton-Massa Lecture honors the late Dr. Emil Massa of Denver and the late Bruce and Mildred Thornton, who shared a common interest in biodiversity, plant genetics, agriculture and horticulture. These commonalities led them to endow an annual public lecture through the Colorado State University College of Agricultural Sciences and College of Natural Sciences.

Massa earned a medical degree in 1953 from Northwestern University and worked at Denver’s St. Joseph’s Hospital from 1960 to 1991. After retiring from orthopedic surgery, Massa spent his time feeding his love for plants at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

Bruce Thornton began his career as a Colorado State student and then served as a full-time faculty member from 1927 to 1962. During his time in Fort Collins, he headed the Colorado State Seed Laboratory from 1940 to 1961. His wife, Mildred, also began her career with CSU as a student and received her master’s degree in botany in 1928. She then worked for her husband at the seed lab until his retirement when she took over the lab with a nine-year tenure as the director of the program.