Winter is orange time in the Valencian Community and we were lucky enough to join a guided tour of the most important citrus fruit collection in Spain and possibly in the world – the Fundacion Todoli (https://todolicitrusfundacio.org) in the town of Palmeras just south of Gandia. The tour was organised by the Costa Blanca branch of the wonderful Mediterranean Garden Society (https://www.mediterraneangardensociety.org/).
The Fundacion Todoli maintains a six hectare site dedicated to collecting and preserving examples of the thousands of varieties of citrus plants that exist. Aside from the obvious oranges and lemons the foundation cultivates limes, pomelos, pummelos, bergamots, grapefruits, mandarins, clementines, kumquats, tangerines and many other varieties of Asian, European and American citrus. The foundation currently claims to have around 400 different varieties under cultivation, a substantially larger number of varieties than other equivalent citrus collections in Southern France.
We were privileged to have a three hour tour of the growing areas interspersed with tasting sessions to try different varieties of the fruit. The tour was led by the founder of the collection, Vicente Todoli, who built the collection on the site of his former family fruit farm. The foundation site now boasts a small museum and trial kitchen facility. Vicente skillfully explained the history of citrus cultivation both in Europe and Asia and its economic and cultural importance. The foundation offers a probably unique opportunity to taste and smell a rare array of citrus fruits from all over the world whilst having an expert to show how to appreciate the fruit. Vicente’s family have been growing citrus on the site for several generations and one suspects that he may indeed have orange juice flowing in his veins such is his passion for citrus! Vicente’s charm and engaging down-to-earth manner made the three hour visit fly past. One came away having learned a huge amount about the botany, history, economics and even art of citrus cultivation.
However, perhaps it should have come as no surprise that Vicente Todoli is such a skilled tour guide: For he is also one of the most important and successful international public art gallery directors of his generation. This unassuming Valencian was the first Director appointed to run the Tate Modern gallery in London following its establishment as a separate gallery. He was the director of Tate Modern from 2003 to 2010, the crucial period when it established itself as one of the world’s great public art institutions. We were both living in London at that time and like almost all Londoners from that time vividly remember the extraordinary impact that shows like Olafur Eliasson’s “Weather Project” (remembered as the “Tate Sun”) had. To a great extent it is possible to credit Vicente Todoli with establishing Tate Modern as such a huge success during those years. When he stood down from the directorship in 2010 he was described in an editorial in the Guardian as one whose “curiosity, wit, rigour and passion make him a model for future directors of Tate Modern” ; high praise indeed from a national newspaper editorial.
Those gifts are now employed by Vicente to develop the foundation that bears his name (he has handed over ownership of his family land to an independent foundation thatwill continue his work). The foundation has developed a small commercial operation to provide funding for its work and we came away from our tour with a few jars of their bespoke marmalades, which will be saved to accompany good cheeses! The foundation is also developing links to supply specialty fruits to restaurants, including back in Vicente’s old home city of London. Above all however, Vicente and his colleagues at the foundation are passionate about preserving historic varieties of citrus plants and encouraging wider knowledge and appreciation of these remarkable fruits. At a time when the world’s biodiversity is under huge threat his work has added importance; if these varieties are lost from active cultivation we will all be poorer in so many ways. Vicente’s former life as a leading gallerist shows through in the fact that the foundation is also building an expanded museum to display its growing collection of art and artefacts related to the history of citrus cultivation and use; this is surely to become a “Tate Citrus” a place of wonder and learning about all things citrus. There can surely be no more appropriate location for such a project than in the heartland of Spanish orange growing in Comunitat Valenciana. Visiting Vicente Todoli’s passion project was both a pleasure and a privilege, we wish him and his colleagues every success for the future; given his extraordinary track record we suspect we will be hearing much more about Fundacion Todoli in years to come!
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