Farm Focus: Luther Burbank

I recently paid a visit to the Luther Burbank Home & Garden in Santa Rosa and thought I would share a little bit about the botanist who helped put northern California agriculture on the world map. Burbank was born in Massachusetts in 1849, at the peak of the California gold rush that brought hundreds of thousands of people out west in search of gold and new economic opportunities. It was an exciting time full of new ideas about nature and science.  Burbank was inspired by the theories of Charles Darwin and used the principles of natural selection to breed plants. His older brothers encouraged him to follow them to California to pursue his passion for plant breeding in the rich soils of Santa Rosa.

He got his start as a breeder while still in Massachusetts in 1871. Luther was trying to develop a new variety of potato that would resist blight and produce seed balls for propagation. He struck gold when one of his plants produced a strong seed ball which, after cross breeding, produced the Burbank potato. The familiar brown russeted Burbank potatoes still remains the most common potato grown in the US today! He sold the crop for $150 to a seed grower and used the money to move to Santa Rosa.

Burbank loved California and made the most of the long seasons, eventually introducing 800 new plant varieties of his own. The Luther Burbank Home & Garden is still standing today (thankfully spared by the fires) and has a huge public garden with some of his most famous plants like the Shasta Daisey, Santa Rosa Plum and Spineless Cactus. These gardens were once a much larger experimental farm where he and a crew of workers grew plants and cross bread them to develop new strains that would be tastier, prettier and heartier. Burbank shared Frog Hollow Farm’s love for stone fruit.  Of the 800 new breeds Burbank introduced, over a 100 were stone fruit. We love his Santa Rosa plums for their great flavor and beautiful color!

Luther Burbank’s influence on agriculture is indelible. We are lucky he called this area home and developed so many great plants we still enjoy today. For anybody who enjoys beautiful gardens, history or just being outside it is definitely worth the visit.
Alexa, CSA Outreach & Engagement

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