Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s 20th Mango Festival
Fairchild's senior curator Richard Campbell has traveled around the world in search of the tastiest mangoes and displays his bounty at this weekend's Mango Festival.
If you go
Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s 20th Mango Festival
When: 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., July 14-July 15
Where: Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, 10901 Old Cutler Rd., Coral Gables
Admission: Free for Fairchild members and children 5 and under. $25 for non-member adults, $18 for seniors 65+, $12 for ages 6-17. Free with military ID, $20 for military spouses and $10 for their children. $5 off for those who arrive on foot or by bike.
Four of the 17 mangoes chosen by Fairchild’s curators representing the new generation of mangoes.
The Angie is a Florida mango with a high disease tolerance, lacks a stringy fiber and has a sweet, rich taste. Its semi-dwarf tree makes it manageable for those who reside in smaller homes.
San Felipe (Cuba)
The ‘San Felipe’ mango belongs to western Cuba. It has a deep crimson blush on the outside, and the inside is a darker yellow with a sweet and spicy flavor.
The flesh has a citrusy tang and no fiber. It ripens in the middle of mango season. It needs more space than the dwarf and semi-dwarf trees.
Its juicy flesh has a blended taste of rich sweetness and Indian spice. While the tree is harder to handle in tropical conditions, its fruits are tolerant of fungal diseases and ripen in the middle of mango season.
It was a day in Ratnagiri India, the ancestral home of the Alphonso, when Amesh Lankejar, a local organic orchard owner, hand picked enough Alphonso mangoes to change the mango tasting lives of Richard Campbell, Ph.D, and Noris Ledesma.
“It’s an indescribable, different flavor. It has such a depth of flavor that it completely overwhelms you,” said Campbell. “[It is] as close to a religious experience you can come to with a mango.”
Campbell, 47, should know. He has spent more than 24 years in search of mango varieties, from India to Thailand for the Nam Doc Mai, (“Thai excellence”) to Trinidad for a scrumptious Graham mango, (“Caribbean experience’’).
All in a quest to find, cultivate, graft and grow new species of mangoes in South Florida, as the senior curator for Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden. The results of his efforts will be on display this weekend, at the 20th anniversary of Fairchild’s Mango Festival. More than 350 different types of mangoes will be showcased, in cooking classes, in demonstrations on tree growing, and an auction that will feed and enlighten buyers. In addition, the festival will sell more than 500 varieties of mango trees.
“We would like to be able to put a mango tree in every house, including in a condo,” said Ledesma, 46, who as Fairchild’s tropical fruit curator is just as passionate as her boss.
Over the past four years, Campbell and Ledesma have been followed through Florida, Bali, and Borneo by filmmakers of Fruit Hunters, a documentary hitting the silver screen in January at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. Viewers will discover that the process of finding mangoes in the wild and breeding them in the Fairchild Farms in Redland is no way an effortless one. Campbell has traveled to 25 to 26 countries, across five continents, in search of mangoes.
He has done most of his work in Southeast Asia. The mango’s roots are in Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Indian subcontinent. Throughout history, the fruit has branched out mostly due to the Spanish and Portuguese explorers who spread the fruit to Brazil, to Mexico, the Americas, Africa and Spain.
“It’s truly one of the most versatile fruits you’ll ever find,” said Campbell, whose wide-brimmed, Costa Rican, leather hat gives him the look of a tropical Indiana Jones. Mango trees produce fruit in times of famine and monsoon, giving the fruit sacred status.
“It just took on such an important role,” said Campbell. “It truly keeps people alive.”
He and Ledesma have met “every conceivable type of person,” from government officials and growers to homeowners, grower associations, and marketing groups, to discover and bring back the secrets of the sacred fruit. Both establish a relationship with the growers that allow the parties to exchange freely back and forth.
However, due to foreign fruit flies like the seed weevil, which can be transferred from fruit and seed, the U. S. government does not allow foreign fruit to be transported unless it goes through a government-run quarantine process. The way the fruit is handled in the process affects the taste, so Campbell and Ledesma have adopted a different approach.
“We have permits to bring back plant material that is issued by the United States Department of Agriculture and it allows us to bring restricted material back to the United States according to the protocols that we have to adhere,” said Campbell. “We also have to have permission from countries that we work in from their government or their agriculture department. We also have to have permission from the grower groups or the individual people that we collect from.”
Once the permits are obtained and permission is granted, Campbell and Ledesma cut three to five mango branches.
“They’re not very big, only about 2.5 inches long, so it doesn’t take up a lot of room.”
From there, the branches are wrapped in parafilm and put into plastic bags.
“We have about three weeks from the time you cut it and it’s dead if you don’t keep it in a moist, cool condition.”
Once wrapped, the branches are stored in small coolers with ice.
“We keep that with us at all time,” said Campbell. “We’re like the Marines, never leave anybody behind.”
Once the materials are brought to the Fairchild Farms, they’re put in the farm’s quarantine greenhouse.
“We have trees growing from seed already here,” said Campbell. From there, they make a cut on the seedling and one on the branch and join the two together.
“You have to have the right temperature and the right technique and it will work.”
In Campbell’s 24 years and Ledesme’s 12, they have bred 15-20 new varieties and their collective journeys have brought 350 varieties to the Fairchild Farms.
“We take them back to the wild mangoes, we breed out again and then we have to convince people that we’re not creating for perfection,” said Campbell, who was introduced to the world of horticulture by his father, Carl L. Campbell, Ph.D., who worked for Fairchild and ran a separate mango forum in South Florida for 40 years.
“He’s really the one who planted the seed of the mango industries in all of Latin America,” said Campbell. “He was the mango guy.’’
Ten new varieties will be displayed at this year’s mango festival, two of them being new species. The new species include Kastooree which, according to Campbell’s son, Thiago Campbell, 14, “tastes like lychee” and the Kuini, which has an earthier flavor and a “wonderful aroma.”
This year’s crop is not as attractive as previous years, as higher average rainfalls in February have increased disease, leaving black blemishes on the skin of many mangoes and killing a lot of the overall crop.
“This was the worst mango growing year you could have our mangoes don’t look pretty this year,” said Campbell. “They have character.”
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