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Happy to Be Here: Plants, people and history


Two members of the Delaware Valley University staff have formed a different kind of book club that’s open to all. It focuses on the scientists and explorers who helped to shape America’s gardens, cuisines, and agriculture.

Sarah Dohle, assistant professor of plant science, and Karen Sheldon, electronic and instructional services librarian, started the club.

Dr. Dohle has been on the university faculty for just a year and a half.

“There are so many books I’ve wanted to read, that it seemed like a good idea,” she said this week. She found examples at the Pennsylvania Horticulture Society, which has the Climate Change Book Club and at other organizations.

Dohle and Sheldon set about starting the local club, inviting the community, students, alumni and staff to join The Plants, People, and History Book Club, which has been meeting since Aug. 30 in the Joseph Krauskopf Memorial Library on the last Thursday of the month from 6 to 7 p.m.

The program lists books in chronological order, starting in 1700s. The first meeting highlighted “The Brother Gardeners: A Generation of Gentlemen Naturalists and the Birth of an Obsession” by Andrea Wulf .

The second meeting is this Thursday, Sept. 27, and the topic is “The Food Explorer: The True Adventures of the Globe-Trotting Botanist Who Transformed What America Eats” by Daniel Stone.

That book is about David Fairchild, an American botanist and plant explorer. Fairchild was responsible for the introduction of more than 200,000 exotic plants and varieties of established crops into the United States.

Fairchild to become a plant explorer for the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

When Fairchild managed the Office of Seed and Plant Introduction of USDA he helped to introduce the cherry trees from Japan to Washington. He married the daughter of Alexander Graham Bell.

In 1926, the Fairchilds built a home on Biscayne Bay in Coconut Grove, Fla. It later became part of the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

“Where Our Food Comes From” by Gary Paul Nabhan is the book subject for Oct. 25. It is about the botanist Nikolay Vavilov.

The future of our food depends on tiny seeds in orchards and fields the world over. In 1943, one of the first to recognize this fact, the great botanist Nikolay Vavilov, lay dying of starvation in a Soviet prison.

In the years before Stalin jailed Vavilov as a scapegoat for the country’s famines, Vavilov had traveled over five continents, collecting hundreds of thousands of seeds in an effort to outline the ancient centers of agricultural diversity and guard against widespread hunger.

Nabhan weaves together Vavilov’s story with his own expeditions to Earth’s richest agricultural landscapes, retracing Vavilov’s path from Mexico and the Colombian Amazon to the glaciers of the Pamirs in Tajikistan.

In his travels, Nabhan demonstrates the way climate change, free trade policies, genetic engineering, and loss of traditional knowledge are threatening our food supply.

“The Viking in the Wheat Field,” by Susan Dworkin is set for Nov. 29.

Her book is about Bent Skovmand who was born in 1945. He came from a small town in Denmark. With a scholarship he came to the University of Minnesota where he earned his Ph.D. in plant science and became one the of the world’s most eminent wheat breeders and seed bankers. He was among the scientists who created the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, a.k.a. The “Doomsday Vault,” on Norway’s Arctic border.

Guests do not need to register in advance, and there is no cost to participate in the book club, but they are asked to read the books before the meetings.

The university also has a student horticultural society, which is having a tasting party from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Del Val Market.

Delaware Valley University is located at 700 East Butler Avenue, Doylestown. SEPTA riders coming from Center City Philadelphia can take the Lansdale/Doylestown line on Regional Rail and get off at the Delaware Valley University stop.