Horticultural Photographer David Cavagnaro on Where Our Food Comes From

Mar 8, 2016

David Cavagnaro, born and raised in California, started taking pictures of insects and plants at 14, becoming fascinated with what he calls "the land of the small."  Throughout his life, he has used this love of plants to push hard to save our agricultural diversity.

Cavagnaro is a former long-time Manager for Seed Savers Preservation Gardens in Decorah.   He has some strong opinions on how our agricultural practices over the past couple of centuries have severely damaged the diversity of the plants we use in farming today.  He told Charity: "We have been decimating our agricultural diversity.  There were 3,000 varieties of apples when the first immigrants arrived in North America, now you can count on one hand the the types of apples that are available today."

The way we eat today, he says, continues to jeopardize the diversity of our food supply.   But there's hope, Cavagnaro tells us.  When we eat at ethnic restaurants or spend the extra money for organic groceries, we make for a more viable food supply.  He says Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah has worked to preserve 15,000 vegetable varieties.   For example, they have over 200 types of tomatoes.  The current interest in the U.S. in a more varied diet, he told us, is having a restorative effect on the agricultural greenbelts around urban areas.  "We're finding wonderful varieties now in backyard fields and gardens and that's helping to restore the genetic diversity of food plants," Cavagnaro told us.

Cavagnaro moved to Decorah in 1987 when Seed Savers started their first Heritage Farm.  But being a farm manager did not stop him from continuing to take pictures.  He says "for almost twenty years, every garden magazine had my photos in them."   His work has been widely published in nature calendars and magazines, including Audubon, National and International Wildlife, Natural History, Ranger Rick and Life.  He has also published five books.