In this day and time, we take for granted the availability and diversity of the many fruits and vegetables accessible to us. We assume they were, and always will be, readily available. We no longer eat “in season” because when the season ends in our region, other seasons are beginning elsewhere that will provide the same product, often with little or no interruption.

What we tend to forget is that many of the plants, trees and shrubs that we consider common today are not native to our country. The plenty that we so easily enjoy today is the result of many years of exploration and experimentation.

In a city full of history, many aren’t aware of the part our region played in the introduction of new plants to the Americas. What is now known as the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm was one of only eight Plant Introduction Stations in the U.S., used to study the introduction of fruits, nuts and other exotic vegetables into the country.

It’s quite remarkable to think that a little farm on U.S. 17 could be a part of our food history, and it all came about because a self-described “chore boy” saw the importance of a field of bamboo.

In the late 1800s a wealthy world traveler and philanthropist, Barbour Lathrop, met David Fairchild, a botanist. Lathrop persuaded Fairchild to become a plant explorer and financed many of Fairchild’s explorations. At the age of 22, Fairchild created the Section of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction of the United States Department of Agriculture, and for the next 37 years, he traveled the world in search of plants of potential use to the American people.

Fairchild is credited for introducing more than 200,000 new plants into the U.S. Those plants include pistachios, mangoes, nectarines, dates, quinoa, kale, avocados and bamboo varieties.

In 1915, Fairchild received a “rather illiterate” letter from a man in Savannah who had heard of Fairchild’s interest in bamboo. This man, commonly known as Col. Drayton, told Fairchild that he was selling bamboo shoots from a grove close to Savannah to a few local restaurants. Fairchild doubted the validity of the letter, especially the part about selling bamboo to restaurants. Not many Americans were eating bamboo in 1915.

He put the letter aside and forgot about it. Sometime later, Col. Drayton showed up at Fairchild’s office in Washington with bamboo shoots. Drayton explained that the bamboo grove, located about 12.5 miles west of Savannah, was going to be sold and he was afraid the new owners would destroy the bamboo. Fairchild, interested, but still skeptical, had someone go and check out the grove.

Upon learning that the grove was indeed real, Fairchild was intent on saving it. Fairchild contacted his friend Lathrop and jokingly asked if he wanted to buy a bamboo grove in Savannah. Lathrop had no desire to own a grove of bamboo, but agreed to buy it and deed it to the USDA for experimental purposes. The land was purchased in November 1918 and on Jan. 1, 1919, the official history of the bamboo farm began.

On Jan. 23, the Friends of the Coastal Gardens will be kicking off a yearlong Centennial Celebration of the Historic Bamboo Farm and Gardens with a luncheon at the The DeSoto Savannah. Walter E. Campbell, a Savannah native and historian, will present an in-depth history of the bamboo gardens, including the connection between the DeSoto and the Gardens. 

If you made a New Year’s resolution to eat healthier, then you can thank the late David Fairchild. Here are some recipes that use the foods he introduced and aren’t too bad on the waistline!

Teri Bell is co-owner of Miss Sophie’s Marketplace at the Mighty Eighth in Pooler. Go to




What: Centennial Celebration of the Historic Bamboo Farm and Gardens

When: Noon Jan. 23

Where: The DeSoto Savannah, 15 E. Liberty St.

Cost: $50 at by Jan. 18, or until sold out

Speaker: Walter E. Campbell, a Savannah native and historian, on history of the bamboo gardens, including the connection between the DeSoto and the Gardens.



Mango Lassi

A Lassi is an Indian yogurt drink much like our smoothie. This Lassi contains a mango, which is one of David Fairchild’s introductions to the U.S.



• 1 cup plain or vanilla yogurt

• ½ cup milk

• 1 cup very ripe (or frozen) mango, chopped

• 4 teaspoons sugar, to taste

• Dash of ground cardamom



1. Put mango, yogurt, milk, sugar and cardamom into a blender and blend for 2 minutes.

2. Sprinkle with a tiny pinch of ground cardamom to serve.

3. Can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.



Lemon-Garlic Kale Salad

This salad combines two foods that David Fairchild introduced to America, kale and Meyer lemon. After Fairchild married one of Alexander Graham Bell’s daughters, he limited his travel and hired other botanists to explore the globe for potential cultivators. One of those botanists was Frank Meyer, who brought a lemon from China that now bears his name. Recipe adapted from NYT Cooking.



• 2 cups sliced almonds

• ⅓ cup freshly squeezed Meyer lemon juice (from 2 to 4 lemons)

• Kosher salt

• 1 ½ cups extra-virgin olive oil

• 4 cloves garlic, crushed with the flat side of a knife, peeled and left whole

• 10 to 12 ounces washed and dried kale leaves, thick stems removed

• 1 ½ cups freshly grated Parmesan



1. In a toaster oven or skillet, toast almonds until golden brown and fragrant. Set aside to cool.

2. In a bowl, combine lemon juice and 1 heaping teaspoon salt. Slowly whisk in olive oil. Add garlic cloves and set aside to steep.

3. Working in batches, cut the kale into thin ribbons: gather a large handful of leaves, bunch together tightly, and use the other hand to slice into ¼-inch-thick pieces, sort of like a slaw.

4. Place chopped kale in a very large bowl. Sprinkle surface with almonds and cheese. Remove and discard garlic cloves from dressing. Pour half the dressing over the salad and toss. Taste and add salt as needed, tossing to coat thoroughly. Serve within 1 hour.



Spinach, Quinoa and Avocado Salad

Quinoa and avocados were both introduced by David Fairchild, but quinoa didn’t take off until a century later. Today, both foods are considered power foods.




• 1 cup quinoa, cooked according to directions

• 8 ounces fresh cherry tomatoes, cut in half

• 1 large cucumber, chopped

• ¼ cup red onion, finely chopped

• 5 ounces fresh spinach

• 2 large ripe avocados, chopped

• 1/3 cup feta cheese



• 4 tablespoons red wine vinegar

• 2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

• 1 teaspoon dried oregano

• 1 clove garlic, minced

• ½ cup olive oil or canola oil

• 1 lemon (2-3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice)

• Salt and pepper



1. In a jar with a lid, add all the dressing ingredients. Shake well and set aside.

2. In a large bowl, add in all the veggies and quinoa. Toss all ingredients and top with feta cheese, if desired.