Luther Burbank: ``Plant Wizard'' Luther Burbank ranks as the most prolific and important produce breeder in American history. He created the Burbank potato, which still was the most widely grown potato variety 120 years after its introduction in 1873. He also bred more than 100 varieties of other plants, most notably plums, some of which remained in commercial cultivation into the 1970s. Inspired by the work of geneticist and evolution theorist Charles Darwin, 26-year-old Burbank headed west in 1875 on a train from his home in Lunenburg, Mass., with the $150 he received for selling a ``better'' potato. With him he took 10 of the potatoes, enough to eventually introduce the Burbank variety to the West Coast states. From the experimental nursery he began in 1875 in Santa Rosa, Calif., his extensive cross breeding efforts created a plethora of new plants in the next 60 years. His plants were grown worldwide and featured in virtually every seed catalog on the market. As Burbank's varieties became famous, so did he. He was unanimously elected an honorary member of the American Breeders' Association at its opening meeting in St. Louis in 1903. He pushed Congress to recognize the right of plant breeders to patent their products. Edward Wickson, former head of the Department of Horticulture at the University of California, a noted Burbank scholar, wrote in 1905 that Burbank had more than pioneered fruits. He ``has unearthed the laws that have governed their production and made bare truths that will live and benefit humanity even if they should ever cease to eat plums or care for potatoes.''
Joseph John ``J.J.'' Castellini J.J. Castellini founded what became know as the ``House of Castellini'' in 1923 in Cincinnati, Ohio, and began building the firm into a major force in Midwestern produce distribution. Through a strategy of carrying broadline products, vertical integration, partnerships and stakes in such businesses as trucking, intermodal transportation, fresh-cut produce, brokering and service wholesaling, the firm became one of the few old-line commission merchants to thrive into the 1990s. At 15, Castellini began his career in 1891 as a clerk and fruit handler for the M. Fugazzi & Co. commission merchant firm in Cincinnati. By night he was a student, taking bookkeeping courses. With his new skills he took a position with A.H. Gray & Co. and in 1898 -- with $500 to his name -- the 20-year-old Castellini became a partner with William M. Gray and William H. Krohne under the name William M. Gray & Co. Two years later he bought out his partners and incorporated the firm in 1923 as the J.J. Castellini Co. Four years later it became The Castellini Co. Castellini's son Robert led the company for a time and formed the Cincinnati Produce Growers Association and was instrumental in the evolution of the wholesaling business into a full-service, value-added marketer. J.J.'s granddaughter, Claire (Thornton), and grandson, Bob, helped build the firm into a distribution network serving 25 states by the 1990s