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A Broad Thinker and a Compassionate Friend: Paul Gepts and Dominique Gioia

Celebrating 50 Years of Wonderful Co-Authors and Editors

Of the co-authors, illustrators and designers I’ve worked with whose last names begin with the letter G – from Jesus Garcia and Glenda Garcia on desert food projects to Jennifer Goodin on conserving biodiversity impacted by the border wall, I’ll focus on just one today – Paul Gepts of the University of California at Davis.

Belgium-born, Paul has been the driving force for conserving, evaluating and utilizing the diversity of beans on this planet, for which he has received the highest honor in crop conservation, Frank N. Meyer Medal for Plant Genetic Resources.

We first started collaborating around 1986, when he was developing his magnum opus, Genetic Resources of Phaseolus Beans, and he kindly edited a chapter on tepary beans that my old friend Richard Pratt and I worked up. He also included me and a dozen others in a second scholarly classic, Biodiversity in Agriculture.

He is also one of the few ag scientists I know who has actively worked to genetically document when plant breeders have not actually bred a new bean variety but have renamed or culturally appropriated ones from agrarian and indigenous cultures.

But what has always touched me about Paul is his deep and loving devotion to his students, post-docs and colleagues, including my dear friends Patricia Colunga, Kimberlee Chambers and Kraig Kraft. Most recently, Paul and Kraig helped me assemble a team of scientists to integrate archeological, ecological, genetic, geographic, linguistic and palaeoecological patterns to determine the origin of annual chile peppers as a Mesoamerican crop in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. A broad thinker, a deeply compassionate friend to us all.

Finally, I want to thank one more writer – editor – Dominique Gioia – who worked on editing and promoting my books for North Point Press and Pantheon.

We first met in Albany CA around 1988, and later rendezvoused at her orchard amphitheater where she met my wife Laurie Monti for the first time, and I met her husband Boz Scaggs. Laurie had no idea who Boz was, but promptly engaged him in a conversation about one of their shared loves-ethnomusicology–right up until his concert in the vineyard, where he sang a powerful selection of old blues and jazz standards. “Oh, he’s a star?” Laurie asked me, as he came out on stage to lead the band. “He was so down to earth…” And so was Dominique who loved the land and the fruits thereof as much as she loved well-crafted words about them.

Her own book, A Welcoming Life: An M.F.K. Fisher Scrapbook, beautifully captures the sensibilities of both great women, Gioia-Scaggs and Fisher.

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