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Dickson, David (06 July 1809–18 February 1885), cotton planter and agricultural reformer, was born in Hancock County, Georgia, the son of Thomas Dickson and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown), farmers. Thomas Dickson was a Virginia revolutionary war veteran who migrated to southern Georgia. David spent his boyhood on his parents’ farm, where he received only a common school education. At age twenty-two Dickson began a successful fourteen-year career as a merchant in Sparta, Georgia. Coveting the social status reserved for planters, Dickson in 1845 purchased a farm of 266 acres; stocked it with slaves, livestock, and farm implements; and for a time abandoned his career in merchandising to become a full-time agriculturist. Because his soil was infertile, in 1846 he applied Peruvian guano, a fertilizer that had first become available in the United States the previous year, on some of his crops. The resulting improvement in crop yields was so dramatic that Dickson soon developed a new system of culture based on heavy usage of guano, in conjunction with deep plowing and shallow cultivation. When chemical fertilizers came on the market during the 1850s, Dickson empirically experimented with various mixtures of guano and chemicals until he found a combination that was very effective on his land. Dickson capitalized on his success by manufacturing and marketing his fertilizer throughout the Southeast....

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Rodale, J. I. (16 August 1898–07 June 1971), health food publisher, was born Jerome Irving Cohen in New York City, the son of Michael Cohen, a capmaker and grocer, and Bertha Rouda. Both parents were Polish immigrants. Rodale studied at New York and Columbia Universities but did not earn any degrees. At age twenty he became an auditor for the Internal Revenue Service, and at twenty-one he moved to Pittsburgh, where he worked in a private accounting firm for three years. He wanted, however, for some vague reason that he never explained, to be a farmer and publisher. In 1920 he traveled to Kentucky on business and became enchanted with the Bluegrass State. “Being among farmers and in farm country I was more and more imbued with the ambition of some day having my own farm and riding to town with my children on a buck-board drawn by two trusty horses.”...