For the CNN junkie who likes gardening: The story of Luther Burbank

It's hard to believe that many of my geeky interests co-mingled in this one book; Plants, politics, and history.

 If CNN was around at the beginning of our history, the contents of this book are what we would have been watching as our nation's infrastructure, land grant universities, and ideals unfolded with an amazing cast of characters;Inventors, politicians, celebrities, scholars, business owners. 
Henry Ford, Thomas Edison, President Warren G. Harding, and
businessman Harvey C. Firestone at one of a series of camping trips 1921 in Maryland.

Here's a smart kid who was a misfit by all accounts, who would fall though the cracks of today's education system, but went on to become a great inventor right alongside Edison and Ford. 

Photo of Burbank with Thomas Edison taken in garden
beside ivy-covered wall of new residence
 by John Ross of Santa Rosa.

Seeing the photos and reading the stories of Edison, Ford, Firestone, and Burbank interacting with one another were fascinating, along with accounts of interations with the Wright brothers, Hellen Keller, Leland Stanford and other dignitaries of the day.

This book gives us insight into the running thread of history and agricultural policy decisions in the context of Darwin, Irish potato famine, poverty, American enthusiasm for inventions and ingenuity and the politics and emergence of the American academic institutions.

So many of the debates and discussions are still relevant today, some ideals having come full circle.  This book made history come alive in technicolor.

Decisions regarding plant patenting that Luther Burbank fought so hard for but did not see before his death, continue to evolve and were modified as recently as 1994.

We now see plant patenting issues discussed in response to the medical marijuana laws enacted by states.  The pharmaceutical industry, the designated distributor of other medicines, is blocked in distribution, not only by drug laws but by plant patent laws.

Heirloom Vegetables
We can see how the initial goals to improve plant production to address poverty and bring improvements has resulted in genetically modified foods, tasteless produce that travels well, and loss of heirloom varieties.  It is an arc of probably unintended consequences from the initial quests.

How could I not know about Luther Burbank before reading this book?  Arbor day was created in his honor and celebrated on his birthday. His birthplace resides "down the road" at Greenfield Village.

Certainly this book has been food for thought.


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