How New Squash Varieties are DevelopedAs the director of OSU’s Culinary Breeding Network, Selman is particularly attentive to this sort of dilemma. Working with OSU plant breeders who use traditional selection methods to develop new vegetable varieties for organic and small-scale farming systems (read: no genetic modification), Selman connects these breeders with local farmers and chefs with the end goal of improving vegetable quality and consumer appeal. This three-pronged approach creates a space for dialog in which the farmers learn more about what their chef-customers want, and allows breeders the chance to listen to the challenges farmers face when growing and storing these crops, as well as hear from the chefs about what flavors, textures, and other cooking qualities they want from a particular type of vegetable. Alexandra Stone, an OSU Vegetable Specialist, teamed up with Selman to devise a research project focused on finding better-storing, delicious winter squash varieties that were small enough in size to appeal to the average consumer. In a smaller package, they hoped, consumers would be more likely to try something new. If the squash could store longer and be lighter and easier to move, farmers could expand their late winter offerings to farmers market and wholesale customers. To kick things off, they held a squash tasting party in November 2014, attended by farmers and chefs who ate their way through raw and prepared samples, leaving behind valuable notes on the varieties they liked best. Stone then moved on to researching the field performance and storage life of various lesser-known varieties that seemed to have good potential for fitting the niche they were going for. The resulting report from Stone’s 2015 field trials of smaller squash varieties gave regional farmers valuable information about which varieties perform well in their climate, taste good, and last in storage. While Stone’s research is specific to farmers in the Pacific Northwest, the quest she and Selman are on – dialing in a particular vegetable to better meet the needs and desires of all levels of the supply chain - is translatable anywhere. And dialog has been the most important takeaway. As Stone’s Facebook group, Squash Party, proves, sometimes the tool a farmer needs most isn’t a tractor or a trowel, but useful research and a place to talk about it. The Facebook group is an extension of Selman and Stone’s 2014 tasting party - a place for growers and eaters to connect and share their field results and tasting notes, and pose questions to the researchers themselves.
Organic Farming Continually InnovatesJust like cooking, farming isn’t a static practice. To maintain a competitive edge, farmers must continually improve their technique, which isn’t much different than trying out new recipes. Organic farming, especially, relies on the tradition of working with old vegetable varieties to develop new ones that meet present-day needs for disease resistance, climate tolerance, and consumer appeal. So while your family’s pumpkin pie recipe might never change, in order to continue fitting into sustainable farm systems, the pumpkin itself will likely need to. And if you’re willing to try something new, Stone and Selman - and the team of chefs, farmers, and breeders they work with - have a few thoroughly tested suggestions.
Would you like to be the first to hear about our new products and more? Sign up for our Nature’s Path Newsletter.