All In A Day’s Work: A Man And His Mangos

Jul 7, 2011

It’s mango season in South Florida. Thanks to our humid climate and poor soil, this region excels at mango growing – only rivaled by Hawaii. The man who knows most about mangoes in Miami is Dr. Richard Campbell, the senior curator of tropical fruit at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables.

The garden will be hosting their annual mango festival July 9-10. Under the Sun’s Trina Sargalski, who also writes about all things edible on her blog Miami Dish, was at last year’s festival, which focused on the mangoes of India. She checked in with Campbell to get an inside scoop about this year’s festival, which will focus on the mangoes of Hawaii.

Campbell has been working at Fairchild for 20 years. His job is to collect mango species from around the world. He gets to taste them, plant them and learn all about them. The mango collection at Fairchild now spans 550 varieties from around the world.

“One day I’m on a collecting trip in Borneo; the next day I’m sitting in on a meeting planning what we’re going to do for the next 10 years,” Campbell said. “The next day I’m out pruning our jackfruit collection; the next day I’m out teaching a kids camp about mamey sapotes.”

As the yearly festival approaches, Campbell spends a lot of his time going out into the garden and finding fruit that has ripened. He estimates that he picks several tons of fruit for the festival. This includes the mangoes used by the chefs and the mangoes that attendees will sample at the tasting.

“Is there a typical day in my job? I guess no,” Campbell said. “That’s what makes my job great. Every day is different.”

So is there any other fruit that strikes his fancy? Avocados are a favorite of his because they are filling and can get you through the day. He also enjoys jackfruit because they are fun to grow and have many uses.