My plant geek friend John Peter Thompson offered to arrange a tour for me of the National Agricultural
Library’s super Special Collection, so how could I say no? I’ve written about the Library previously, and so has Barbara Damrosch, because their funding is in such grave danger (after years of flat-lining). I think my snarky title for that earlier post was "U.S. sees no need to teach people to grow food," and that applies especially to poor farmers in developing countries with no Internet access. With budget cuts, the library will stop mailing how-to-grow-food pamphlets to them, as they once did to Eliot Coleman when he was a gardening newbie.
So in the chilly, hermetically sealed confines of the Special Collection, with its 15,000 rare books, 200,000
catalogs, and posters, I feasted my eyes on some of those catalogs and posters, plus wax fruit, fiber samples and some big ole’ books. When we stopped to see the 1509 "Tract on the Benefits of Herbs," John Peter stepped up to translate the Latin for us (yes, he’s THAT geeky). We saw the first known illustration of corn, from 1541, in the photo left. My point is it was very cool stuff, even to this non-history buff.
• Finding heirloom fruits that will do well today. There used to be thousands of varieties of apples grown in the U.S., not the handful in the stores today. The Pomological Watercolor Collection has helped researchers of heirloom fruits, and the seed catalogs provide illustrations of heirloom fruit and vegetables.
• The Animal
Parasite Collection spans 100 years of animal parasitology research, including original
line drawings and photographic records of animal parasites with descriptive
indexes. Kinda helpful in researching food safety issues.
• And across the street at the Ag Research Center they’re researching rice
that will thrive in this new era of increased CO2. Germplasm stored
there dates back 150 years.
Abraham Lincoln started the the National Agricultural Library in 1862, in
middle of Civil War, coz he thought food was important. Isn’t it still?!