Did you know that crayons, chalk, toothpaste, sneakers and even diapers contain materials that in some way come from corn? That one-fifth of land in the contiguous United States is used to cultivate crops? Or that 1 in 3 American households — whether on farms, in backyards and community gardens or on balconies and windowsills — grow some of their own food?
A new exhibit at the U.S. Botanic Garden (USBG) covers these topics and more. “Cultivate: Growing Food in a Changing World” shows how agriculture isn’t just an activity that takes place on faraway farms but something that shapes almost every aspect of our existence.
“Agriculture is part of our everyday life, and it’s in a lot of everyday things that we never thought about,” says Amy Bolton, the museum’s manager of learning and engagement.
The exhibit, the largest the USBG has ever put on, is spread throughout the glass-enclosed conservatory building. The entry courtyard is filled with species of formerly wild plants and trees, many from the tropics or subtropics, that humans have cultivated to make them more suitable for food or other needs. These include coconuts, bananas, coffee, citrus, bamboo and cacao (pronounced kuh-KAU), a plant whose seeds are used to make chocolate.
The exhibit highlights some popular dishes to show how even meals that don’t seem to contain many agricultural products can still rely on farming. Take sushi, for example: Although the seafood and seaweed used to wrap it come from the ocean, not only the rice but also the flavorings — such as soy, wasabi and ginger — come from plants.
A section on the cultural aspects of what we eat features three chefs with local connections, and it appeals to almost all of the five senses. For