The Seed to Kitchen Collaborative connects plant breeders focused on organic systems to Wisconsin farmers and chefs, to create delicious, well-adapted vegetable varieties for local organic production. A collaboration among chefs, farmers and breeders presents a unique opportunity to focus on vegetable variety characteristics important to local food systems, such as flavor, fresh-market quality and agronomic performance on smaller-scale diversified farms.
Over 20 seed companies, universities and independent plant breeders contribute varieties and breeding material to our trials. Over 60 farmers grow subsets of these varieties, evaluate them for desirable traits, and provide feedback to the breeders. Every month from June through January, Madison chefs gather to taste produce from our trials at the West Madison Agricultural Research Station. Sometime’s they’ll test 20 varieties of tomato (or pepper, or beets!) at a time, creating detailed descriptions of flavor, texture, over-all eating quality, and their personal preferences. That information goes out to the plant breeders around the country, and farmers across the Upper Midwest, to help each group decide which varieties to improve, market, or experiment with. The results of this collaborative work yield incredible new cultivars of your favorite market veggies, proven to perform beautifully on local organic farmers and in our best-loved kitchens.
Every year we host a tasting event to celebrate the achievements of the season, and invite the public into our world of veggie-obsession. Get your tickets for Farm to Flavor 2017 HERE! The event will be held August 24 in the Discovery Building on campus, and will feature dishes from all 8 of our participating Madison-area chefs.
Edible Madison published a piece about our project in it’s Spring 2017 issue:
Check out this article in the Wisconsin State Journal about the project: Chefs, Farmers and UW Scientists team up for flavorful produce. Nico Savidge. December 6, 2015.
For more information on participating in the project, and to receive information on project results, contact Julie Dawson, Department of Horticulture, email@example.com
More about the project:
Wisconsin is lucky to have many active vegetable breeding programs at UW Madison, as well as a strong local foods movement supported by excellent farmers and chefs. The state is also the #2 state in the country for the total number of organic farms and for the number of organic vegetable farms. There is increasing involvement of farmers, non-profit associations and seed companies selecting for traits important to organic and direct market farmers.
Flavor and direct-market quality traits are difficult to measure in plant breeding programs. In addition, flavor has often not been a priority because of the importance of traits such as shelf life and tolerance to shipping in long-distance food systems. By working directly with chefs and farmers to develop evaluation methods for flavor, we hope to improve our ability to select high quality vegetable varieties for farmers, gardeners and consumers. We also need your help in our research on evaluating vegetable flavor through taste tests at our field days.
Goals of the project
- Promote informal collaborations between breeders, farmers and chefs to improve selection for flavor and direct market quality.
- Evaluate new and soon-to-be-released varieties for culinary traits in restaurants with participating chefs and for agronomic performance on direct-market farms.
- Develop better methods of evaluating and selecting for flavor and culinary quality.
Reports include information from the West Madison Agricultural Research Station (organic management), On-farm trials, flavor evaluations from summer crews (about 15 people) and chef flavor evaluations of selected varieties. Not all crops have all types of data. Trials at the West Madison Research Station are screening trials, not replicated yield trials, so yield data is provided as an indication only. Please excuse any glitches in formatting, we will post more polished versions as they become available. For information on the organic potato trials, see organicpotato.wisc.edu
On-Farm Vegetable Variety Trials
Based on farmer priorities, we are trialing beets, carrots, cucumber, kale, greens, melons, onions, peppers (sweet and hot), winter squash, potatoes and tomatoes (high tunnel and field grown). The trials are set up to be flexible – all varieties are grown at the research station each year, and farms take subsets of these trials. Each farm chooses which crop(s) they are most interested in. We develop a list of 4-5 “core” varieties for each crop, which are included on each farm growing that crop, and farmers can also choose from a list of additional varieties if they would like more varieties in their trial.
We send each farm all the seeds they need for their trial as well as stakes, a planting map and datasheets. Farmers manage the trial as they would manage their normal crop. The research station trials are managed organically, and while we prefer that farmers manage their trial without pesticides so that we get good observations on disease resistance, there is no requirement for participants to be certified organic. We are working with a lot of the vegetable breeding programs at UW Madison who are developing varieties for organic agriculture, as well as Cornell University, Oregon State University and some seed company breeders focused on market growers – Johnny’s Selected Seeds, High Mowing Organic Seeds, Vitalis, Bejo, Wild Garden Seeds, Adaptive Seeds, Hudson Valley Seed Library and other independent breeders.
The goal is to give you a chance to try out some new and soon-to-be released varieties and to hear what other farmers think of them, as well as what chefs and consumers think of the quality. We evaluate all varieties on the research station here in Madison, including more quantitative traits like yield, and we conduct flavor evaluations on the varieties from the Madison trials with members of the public and local chefs.
The observations we ask farmers to collect on the varieties their trials are the following:
- Would you grow this again?
- How marketable is it?
- What did you think of the flavor?
- Strongest point
- Major flaws
- Productivity compared to others in the trial and your favorite variety
- Susceptibility to insect/disease/stress compared to other varieties
- Best/Worst Variety (choose one best and one worst variety for each crop)
- General Notes (any other observations you have that don’t fit in the previous categories)
Farmers participating in on-farm trials 2016:
Currently Participating Chefs:
Dan Bonanno Pig in a Fur Coat
Jonny Hunter Underground Food Collective
Tory Miller l’Étoile, Graze, Estrellón, Sujeo
Eric Benedict Cafe Hollander
Yusuf Bin-Rella Dejope Dining
Joe Cloute Heritage Catering
Kathy Griswold Epic
Sean Fogarty Steenbock’s on Orchard
Plant Breeders participating from the UW:
Beets and Carrots Irwin Goldman
Carrots Phil Simon
Corn, culinary and sweet Bill Tracy
Cucumbers Yiqun Weng
Peppers Jim Nienhuis
Potatoes Ruth Genger, Doug Rouse
Other breeders and seed companies participating:
Adaptive Seeds Andrew Still and Sarah Kleeger
Ball Seeds Cheni Filios
Bejo Seeds Kristen Oomen, Jan Van der Heide
Cornell University Michael Mazourek
High Mowing Organic Seeds Jodi Lew-Smith
Hudson Valley Seed Company Ken Greene
Johnny’s Selected Seeds Rob Johnston, Janika Eckert,
Emily Haga, John Navazio
KC Tomatoes Keith Mueller
Oregon State University Jim Myers, Lane Selman
Wild Garden Seeds Frank Morton
Vitalis Organic Seeds Adrienne Shelton
Kitt Healy, Outreach Specialist
Brian Emerson, Research Specialist
Thomas Hickey, Research Gardener
Janet Hedtcke, Assist. Superintendent, West Madison Agricultural Research Station
Many thanks to all the students who have worked on this project and to the West Madison Garden Interns!
Funding for this project provided by the UW-Madison, USDA-Hatch, USDA-North Central SARE and the Ceres Trust.