(Aug. 18) RALEIGH, N.C. — In 1903 U.S. life expectancy — with half the country calling the farm “home” — was a paltry 47 years.

Fast-forward 100 years, and “Home on the Range” has been replaced by “Condo in the City.”

But one thing that hasn’t changed is the nation’s hunger. Enter, the American Society for Horticulture Science, which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

The festivities get under way Oct. 3-6 in Providence, R.I., at the society’s annual conference.

For George Wilson, who grew up on a farm and serves as president of the society and vice provost for international affairs at North Carolina State University, science has provided more than a helping hand in shaping the produce industry as we know it today.

“Even just 30 years ago, you could tell what time of year it was by going into the supermarket,” Wilson said. “Now, you can go in one in December and find sweet corn and strawberries. … The freshness is really a year-round experience these days.”

Advancements in ethylene have transformed the industry, he said. In the early 1900s, when bananas were still shipped in bunches as opposed to boxes, shippers used kerosene heaters in warehouses to keep the fruit from getting too cold, he said. But when the bananas ripened as a result, a revolution was born.

“It’s like harnessing the sun’s energy. You learn what it’s all about and find out how to control its use. (Ethylene) changed the whole industry,” Wilson said.

What it allowed for, he said, was the shipping and distributing of green bananas — something growers always knew they wanted to do but couldn’t accomplish.

Wilson said it’s part of a long tradition of science influencing the way the industry grew.

Both controlled- and modified-atmosphere advancements that were a product of research in the past century have had a profound effect on today’s produce world, he said. Additionally, Wilson said the fruits of research have led to disease- and insect-resistant crops.