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A Time to Reap

Yael Ehrenpreis Meyer

He was the man who created the thickest tomatoes for Heinz ketchup, the greenest peas for Green Giant. After decades as a world-class plant breeder, Dan Nadel — World War II veteran, hybrid vegetable creator, pioneer Israeli seed developer, and proud Jew — looks back on nine decades to appreciate what he has sown.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

In the summer of 1935, 15-year-oldDanNadel stood in his uncle’s garden in upstate New York staring at a package of radish seeds. What in the world could a kid do with a bunch of radish seeds? Ninety-four-year-oldDanNadel remembers that moment as if it were yesterday. At the time, he decided he would plant a portion of them in neat rows and scatter the rest on the ground where he stood. “A week later I had a garden filled with radishes — many more than we could possibly eat,” Nadel remembers. “So I took baskets of them by horse and buggy to then radish-less Liberty [New York] and sold them for $5 a bushel. The going rate of the time was $1.50…”Dan had discovered how to profit from his passion: growing vegetables and getting paid for it. It was a natural choice, then, that after graduating high schoolDan would attend the New York State Institute of Applied Agriculture, an experience he describes as one of the happiest times of his life. “Only until you met me, I hope,” pipes inShirley, his wife of 67 years, who sits nearby in their Jerusalem home. Agronomy, the science of producing plants for food and other uses, may not be the body of knowledge that has captured the public imagination. And yet, every time you squeeze the ketchup bottle or even bite into an “all-natural” apple, agronomy has played a role. As an agronomist specializing in plant breeding, over the years Dan would apply the principles of heredity and modern genetics to the development of new vegetable varieties, from niblets robust enough for the Jolly Green Giant to tomatoes tough enough for Heinz, and bananas sweet enough even for the infant consumers of Gerber’s baby food. And along the way, he would be a pioneer in Israel’s nascent seed production industry, aiding in the agricultural development of the Jewish state.

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