Recent Projects

  Value added grains for local and regional food systems

This project came about as a result of the increasing interest in expanding local food systems to include staples like grains.  Grains make an excellent rotation crop on vegetable farms, however they are often too low-value to be economically justified.  Growing high-value grains for local and regional markets is one way for organic grain farmers to tap into the interest in local food and gives rotation options to fresh-market vegetable farmers.   Our project was a collaboration of researchers, farmers and non-profit farming associations.  The project focused on applied questions millincluding choice of varieties for bread wheat, spelt, emmer and einkorn, planting dates, rates and nitrogen management, postharvest processing and appropriate equipment for small scale operations.   The project also involves case studies of local marketing options and evaluation of baking andbread sensory quality of different varieties.

June Russell of Greenmarket in NYC is part of our project and has a great website on regional grain:

Participatory plant breeding

An initial collaborative research project on wheat landrace diversity (described below) was of great interest to farmers, but they also wanted practical solutions: new varieties that would work well in their systems. Farmers wanted research support on making crosses and selection, and were interested in measuring the impact of their methods on the diversity they conserved within the populations.
The particular objectives of our participatory plant breeding project were to infuse more genetic diversity in to some of the landraces and historic varieties that had been conserved ex-situ, then to increase seed of these populations to distribute to many farmers, so farmers could first evaluate a diverse range of possible populations and then select a few that they would like to improve. crossing The goal was to get populations out on farm that would be useful to farmers in a short timeframe.  A secondary goal was to train interested farmers in crossing and experimental methods so that the program could continue with the support of farmer associations even if grants were not available.

We adapted the Mother-Daughter trial methodology initially developed in Africa and involved several regional farmers’ associations in addition to individual farmers.  These associations were key to logistical support and data collection. There was one regional or a couple intermediate trials in each zone, these trials were usually on a farm where the farmer had access to small scale planting and  harvesting equipment.  Each regional farm had multiple checks and replications, and the on-farm trials had replicated checks and flexibility in the choice of the other entries, which could be conservation varieties, bulk unselected populations or new selections that the farmer had made.

European conservation of cultivated diversity

As part of a European project to create a conservation variety catalog, we studied 8 landraces and historic varieties of wheat currently being used by organic farmers.  These varieties were all grown by 8 farmers from Italy, France and the Netherlands. We assessed the phenotypic variation and stability of these varieties grown inside and outside their region of origin and found that varieties remained distinct when multi-trait phenotypes (used for the catalog) were evaluated, even though there were some shifts in individual traits as varieties were harvested and replanted on farms in different regions.