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Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov's Quest to End Famine
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Where Our Food Comes From: Retracing Nikolay Vavilov's Quest to End Famine

3.94  ·  Rating Details  ·  118 Ratings  ·  32 Reviews
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. But in the years before Stalin jailed him as a scapegoat for the country’s famines, Vavilov had traveled over five continents, collecting hundreds of thousands o ...more
Hardcover, 264 pages
Published September 12th 2008 by Shearwater (first published September 1st 2008)
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Mar 18, 2009 Melanie rated it really liked it
I was interested in this book for two reasons, both for its theme of agricultural biodiversity and for the part that Russian scientist Nikolay Vavilov plays in this story. I was not disappointed! Nabhan is an ethnobotanist, conservationist, farmer, and a prolific author, with many other titles I now want to read as well. In this book he's decided he will follow in the footsteps of Vavilov and see how agricultural biodiversity has changed since Vavilov's world travels in the early 1900's.

Oct 07, 2015 Psycheinhell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Deux guides : Gary Paul Nabhan, et Nikolaï Vavilov. Deux botanistes / ethnobotanistes / phytogénéticiens ? Deux voyageurs, deux collecteurs de graine, deux découvreurs. Des aventuriers de l’arche perdue, en quête des origines géographiques de nos semences, défenseurs des agricultures locales au nom du savoir agricole autochtone.
Le premier chapitre (malgré son écriture un peu désordonnée, ne pas s’arrêter à cela, *surtout pas*), le premier chapitre, donc, fut un choc. Il dit le rêve d’un botanist
Dena Bass
Jun 20, 2010 Dena Bass marked it as to-read
Having just read City of Thieves and listened to a Hard Core History Podcast about Stalin and Hitler - was interested this book because evidently Vavilov and his "people" guarded seeds and grains with their lives during the siege of St Petersburg.
Jan 22, 2013 Wilfriedhoujebek rated it it was ok
Nabhan travels in the footsteps of Russian food crop explorer Vavilov and in doing so he gives us a glimpse of how traditional agriculture in the agro-biodiveristy hotspots of the world have changed the last 70-80-90 years. The situation is not good. Where farmers used to rely on many types of crops and many varieties within crops, all with different characteristics for nutrition, drought and blight resistance and ecosystem sensitivity in general, there is now an ever increasing reliance on indu ...more
Jonna Higgins-Freese
I had heard of and been fascinated by the idea of "Vavlovian centers" -- areas where agricultural crops were first domesticated from wild crops (wheat in Persia, apples in Kasakhstan, where the forests are apple trees, corn in central America, etc.). Nabhan tells a much more in-depth story of the life and work of Vavilov, a talented scientist, gifted ecologist, and tireless traveler who led over 180 expeditions throughout the world in his quest for varieties (or landraces) of agricultural crops. ...more
Nov 16, 2010 Alix rated it really liked it
Shelves: science, non-fiction
I found this book to be informative and interesting. Nabhan has a great writing style that blends history with the present-day and is very easy to understand and follow. The book was set up very nicely to trace Vavilov's travels in the early 1900s, with the chapters written in this order (the first chapter is all about Vavilov, though, which gives a great basis for the book if you're unfamiliar with this scientist).

Although I have a background in range management and plants (plant evolution), I
This book examines the genetic diversity of food crops as the author follows the travels of the N. Valvilov, a Russian & Soviet agricultural researcher of the first half of the twentieth century. Valvilov, who died of starvation in a concentration camp in 1943, after irritating Stalin, had traveled to Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Egypt, Eithiopia the southwestern United States, Mexico, and South America in search of crop varieties. The purpose behind collecting these varieties was to provide a sourc ...more
Jun 22, 2012 Abby added it
I've been thinking for a while that I should read something by this Gary Paul Nabhan guy, who shares my interests to an almost creepy extent. And I have aways been completely intrigued by Vavilov, his groundbreaking science and his incredible story. I can still hardly believe how few people have taken advantage of writing about him. So when I discovered there was a book on the implications of Vavilov's work AND it was Nabhan who beat me to it...well, doesn't that just figure.

This book appears to
Jan 06, 2010 Dnicebear rated it really liked it
I am often drawn to Gary Nabhan's subjects and writing about plants and the land and cultures. I especially love reading about Kazakhstan, birthplace of the Apple. Listen to this: "The fragrance of the Kazakh forest was unlike any I have ever known, for the pervasive smell of ripening and rotting apples and pears filled my nostrils. At my feet, russet reds, blushing, pinks, vibrant roses, and creamy yellows mottled the ground, where wildlife had half consumed many of the fruit that makes this fo ...more
Nancy McKinley
Mar 14, 2013 Nancy McKinley rated it liked it
The story of Nikolay Vavilov, a pioneering individual who devoted his life's work to gather diverse seeds from all over the world and save them in a seed bank in his native Russia. Although his seed bank was in Russia his work benefitted the entire world and still does today. He was respected throughout the scientific community.
Crop diversity is a major flaw of our modern food production and Nikolay, a true visionary, saw this and commited his life to this seed gathering in the early to mid twe
Maggie Hesseling
Jun 10, 2014 Maggie Hesseling rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Part travellogue, part historical text, part biography, this interesting text explains agricultural history in a way that draws you in almost right away. It gave me a new way to think about food. And encouraged me to read more into Vavilov's work. I reccomend this to anyone who is interested in the history of food and indigenous agriculture and what we can do to improve situations now.
Jul 13, 2014 Amber rated it it was amazing
What a fascinating book about the world-wide seed saving and genetic diversity pursuit of Nikolay Vavilov. The author traces some of the route of Vavilov, highlighting the absolute necessity of working with farmers to safeguard communities against famine.

I really had absolutely no idea that Russia is home to the biggest gene bank in the world and that at one time they led the world in banking seeds and agricultural research. Until Stalin needed a scape goat of course for the starvation death of
Sep 30, 2009 Lisa rated it it was amazing
The book follows Russian botanist Nikolay Vavilov’s life and work through the early 20th century until his death under Stalin. Nabhan documents Vavilov’s journeys through five continents, showing readers the importance of seed banks, genetic diversity in agriculture, and biological hot spots in mountainous regions across the globe. Because Nabhan is a scientist and traveler as well as an author, the book contains observations of the agricultural state of 11 countries a century after Vavilov’s in ...more
May 27, 2009 Jackie rated it it was amazing
Gary Nabhan is always on the edge of indigenous farming, but this time he goes far beyond the American Southwest and has followed in the international foot steps of Nikolay Vavilov, Russian plant scientist, who traveled five continents to collect seeds in order to develop crop diversity. Nikolay Vavilov's journies of the early 1900's are must reads as are the return trips of Gary Nabhan 60 years later. Of most personal interest to me were the Tarahumaras of Chihuahua, Mexico and the Zapotec trad ...more
Diana Belchase
Feb 17, 2015 Diana Belchase rated it it was amazing
A great look at the need to randomize seeds and agricultural products and the work of a Russian scientist that is essential to our food sources . Interesting and well written.
Feb 25, 2013 Emily rated it really liked it
This short book is less a biography of Vavilov than it is an argument for the importance of seed saving and maintaining crop diversity in the world. With that said, it's an interesting read, and makes a strong argument for the idea that the loss of crop diversity is something we should all be concerned about, as it has very strong implications for food security (or the lack thereof). I would have liked more detail about Vavilov's adventures, and Nabhan's modern-day ones as well, but this was sti ...more
Sep 21, 2009 Larry rated it liked it
This is not my style but I did not give it a low rating because it is well-written and well-researched. The book got too deep into minute topics. I couldn't get past the first half. I enjoy similar books but this one dragged on for me. (Come on, enough about some obscure seed bank that no one has ever heard of. Move on to something compelling.) I have not read other reviews for this book but I suspect other readers loved it.
May 31, 2015 Ramona rated it it was amazing
Shelves: ethnobotany, food
This is a fabulous narrative of history and exploration. Gary Paul Nabhan traces the historical wanderings of Nikolay Vavilov as he explored crop origins. Using Vavilov's detailed records Nabhan is able to document the influences of culture and climate change of crop trends. Overall an insightful and valuable read. I learned a lot about Vavilov's understandings of centers of biodiversity and crop origins.
Apr 30, 2010 Lynne rated it did not like it
Alas, I didn't have another book with me so I was forced to finish this one. I was hoping for a more straightforward biography rather than a book on the importance of saving seeds loosely structured around an historical person.

As for the writing, I was halfway through the book (and ready to quit) and it still seemed like I was reading an overly long foreword.
Mar 24, 2009 Lyra rated it liked it
Super interesting look at the importance of maintaining global crop diversity. Follows the path of Russian scientist Vavilov, as he traveled around the world studying indigenous agriculture and developing one of the worlds most amazing collection of seeds, only to die of starvation in a prison under Stalin's regime.
Nov 16, 2015 Jordan rated it liked it
This is a bio-geography of an extremely interesting man who gets no press. I really enjoyed learning about Vavilov and the plants he studied.

However, the author makes the whole book about him in a really awkward and off-putting way and the writing could have used another couple passes from the editor.

Leigh Ann
Sep 29, 2013 Leigh Ann rated it it was amazing
I was amazed that Vavilov was exploring biodiversity many years before it became today's hot topic. The importance of preserving not only endangered annals but also plant diversity makes so much sense in the face of food shortages today. This is a must read for anyone who cares about our environment.
Feb 02, 2014 Tammy rated it really liked it
This is a very important, if brief look, at the work of Nickolay Vavilov, in the early half of the 20th century, in relation to our current situation of food security as it stood at the time of this books publication. I think it depicts a part if history oft forgotten and neglected as well.
Oct 15, 2014 Polina rated it really liked it
Not really a biography on Vavilov as I originally thought it would be, but still a really interesting and informative book that touches upon a variety issues such as globalization, food politics, the global climate change, and the importance of biodiversity in preventing famine.
Nov 21, 2015 Melissa rated it liked it
I liked the idea of this book, but overall I found it difficult to get through. Vavilov's story was extremely interesting, but I struggled with the writing style. It might work for someone who is interested in facts, but it was just too dry for me.
Mary Louise
Nabhan makes important connections between culture and food scarcity. Hey, food scarcity is real,just talk to my friends from around the world. We need to think of ways to help before it's too late. (Stepping off my soap box.)
Marjorie Elwood
Dec 23, 2009 Marjorie Elwood rated it really liked it
Half biography and half adventure, this book takes us around the globe in search of food security through seed variety. Fascinating to learn more about the origins of food crops, as well as the obsession of one man.
Jul 16, 2011 Adelaide rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2011-summer
This was a fascinating, yet impersonal, look at Nikolay Vavilov's life. It was very interesting to see the contrast between today and Vavilov's time when Nabhan revisited some of Vavilov's field sites.
Asta Garmon
Jun 21, 2009 Asta Garmon rated it it was amazing
Shelves: food-books
This is a beautifully written story that brings a historical perspective to seed/biodiversity crisis we face today.
Heid E.
Aug 29, 2011 Heid E. rated it it was amazing
Reads like a thriller with excellent food porn value!
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Gary Paul Nabhan is an internationally-celebrated nature writer, seed saver, conservation biologist and sustainable agriculture activist who has been called "the father of the local food movement" by Utne Reader, Mother Earth News, Carleton College and Unity College. Gary is also an orchard-keeper, wild forager and Ecumenical Franciscan brother in his hometown of Patagonia, Arizona near the Mexica ...more
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