The story of an intrepid botanist who exposed America to myriad exotic plants and food crops.
While conducting research for an article, National Geographic staff writer Stone stumbled on a map showing the origins of popular foods that became domesticated in America. This discovery, as well as the author’s lifelong fascination with tropical fruit, spurred a great exploration for perennially curious American botanist David Fairchild (1869-1954), who scoured the planet foraging for new foods and plants with which to enrich and tantalize American palates. Employing dogged research and close scrutiny of his subject’s letters, rough drafts, and “ponderings on the backs of envelopes and napkins,” the author delves into many different aspects of Fairchild’s life. These include his seafaring adventures visiting more than 50 countries, his insatiable hunger to uncover new produce varieties and promote homeland agricultural development, and the harsh criticism his work continually garnered. Fairchild’s assignments as a junior scientist with the then budget-challenged Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., and encouragement from world-traveling philanthropist Barbour Lathrop whetted his wanderlust for far-flung destinations, where he came across such exotic plants as the Hass avocado in Chile, seedless grapes in Padua, cherry blossoms in Japan, and potent hop plant flowers in Bohemia, which pointed to significant beer-crafting potential. Stone also provides details of the political struggle Fairchild faced. While his work enriched the agricultural climate of the country, congressional opponents felt that his methodical importation of new, farm-sourced, organic plant and produce varieties would compromise and even jeopardize native botanical species. Narrated in vividly realized, richly descriptive text with accompanying photographs, Stone’s biography reanimates the legacy of an important contributor to the botanical diversity of America. Indeed, Fairchild’s agricultural discoveries revolutionized the formerly bland eating habits of Americans and helped establish the country’s own culinary identity.
An erudite and entertaining historical biography of a food pioneer with particular interest for gastronomes and agriculture enthusiasts.