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California Garden & Potager: Learnings from “The Seed Detective: Uncovering the Secret Histories of Remarkable Vegetables”

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Adam Alexander is a Welsh gardener and award-winning film & television producer who brings us along his journey to collect and preserve rare and endangered heritage and heirloom vegetables.

Alexander’s passion is in engendering a feeling of connectedness to the land. He achieves this by reintroducing people to their own food culture & heritage and provides encouragement to eat more locally-produced food.

The Seed Detective is a story of “globalization, political intrigue, colonization and serendipity – describing how these vegetables and their travels have become embedded in our food cultures.”

The Seed Detective: an introduction

“Thirty years ago, I never thought of vegetables as being rare or endangered, or how they were embedded in the social traditions of their native food culture — that they had their own stories to tell.

Within a few short years I started to think of myself as a seed detective: someone on the trail of local varieties that, first and foremost, were delicious and which I could grow in my own garden.

I realized that many vegetables that were an intrinsic part of local diet were in great danger of being lost forever. They needed to be saved from possible extinction. Gradually I started to build a library of the varieties I had come across, either in a local market or from a farmer, a gardener or a chef I met on my travels.” (3)

Highlights from Part One: Vegetables from the East

A brief history of food in the east…

  • Romans — food export culture through their empire
    • Writings
      • Fertile Crescent by Herodotus, geographer with insight into food culture
      • Pliny the Elder – wrote about agriculture and crops
      • Dioscorides – botanist, medicinal and culinary purposes, wrote De materia medica
  • Arabic thinking and innovation influence on European food culture
    • Irrigation systems from Moorish conquest of Spain –> food can be grown in arid areas
    • Ibn al-‘Awwām – wrote al-filā-hah (Book of Agriculture)
  • European academics and philosophers
    • Dioscorides – De materia medica
    • Robert Dodoens – how should science classify and describe food crops?
      • Influenced by Otto Brunfels, Jerome Bock, Leonhart Fuchs, Carl Linnaeus (botanist, zoologist and “Father of Taxonomy”)
  • 16th century food revolution coincides with two technological innovations: invention of the printing press and woodblock illustrating
    • Food now can be admired for scientific, aesthetic and cultural value
    • Horticulture becomes a science

Plants discussed in this section

  • Peas
  • Beans
  • Oranges
  • Leek
  • Cauliflower, Krambē and Braske
  • Asparagus
  • Leafs
  • Garlic

Highlights from Part Two: Vegetables from the West

A brief history of food in the west…

  • Agriculture dates back 12,000 years
    • Hunter-gatherers lived off foraged food and small prey
    • Edible plants systemically foraged
  • 7,000 years ago, 10% of diet came from cultivated crops
  • 3,000 years ago, people started to grow almost everything they ate
  • 500 years ago foods from South America made it to the ‘Old World’ (Europe – Spain, Portugal) via European explorations & conquest of Bahamas, Mexico and Central America
    • Challenges the belief that only the Greeks knew about botony
    • Revolution in diet and scientific thinking

Plants discussed in this section

  • Tomato
  • Bean
  • Corn
  • Beans
  • Peppers
  • Pumpkin

To purchase:

ISBN: 9781915294081

A Conversation with the Author –“The adventures of a seed detective – saving seeds, preserving our food culture: with Adam Alexander

via Biodynamic Gardening

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