The Food Explorer

At the turn of the 20th century, farmers around the country were mostly growing the few same crops. Farmers and consumers were hungry for something new.

A man named David Fairchild was a “food spy” for the United States. He circled the world on steamships to study farming methods, pick up crops, and bring them here.

Daniel Stone is a writer for National Geographic. He extensively researched Fairchild, and wrote a book about him called “The Food Explorer”. Stone says we can credit the man as the first American foodie.

"He picked up many citrus varieties in parts of Asia, he picked up mangos in the Indian Ocean, he picked up avocados and watermelon varieties in South America, wheat varieties in Russia, varieties of apples in northern Asia," says Stone. "And then he circumnavigated Africa and found new types of grains that were new to the U.S. but had been grown in Africa since the dawn of civilization."

Stone says Fairchild collected seeds, cuttings, and buds, and sent them to Washington.

"So, the USDA would receive new seeds, they’d send them out to experiment stations all over the country, and then those experiment stations would distribute them to farmers and consult them on growing methods, how much water they needed, how much sunlight," he says. "They would be sent to regions that mirrored the regions where they were from, so that they had the best chance of thriving."

Not every new find was a wild success. Some never caught on in the United States - such as dwarf pineapples.