Plant breeders, chefs and farmers all come together in the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative

Seed to Kitchen Collaborative unites local food decision-makers to grow new vegetable breeds
tomatoes being tested at Seed to Kitchen Collaborative
Courtesy of Seed to Kitchen Collaborative
Seed to Kitchen Collaborative has tested different varieties of tomatoes, including Juliet x Blush, which are part of a collaborative breeding project.

Plant breeders, chefs and farmers all come together in the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative, a program within the University of Wisconsin–Madison Department of Horticulture. The program supports plant breeders developing new varieties of produce and involves farmers and chefs in the process to give plant breeders feedback.

“A lot of chefs seek out heirloom vegetables that were grown in a different location or climate, and in order to make our culture more sustainable, we should be sourcing locally,” says Julie Dawson, an associate professor in UW–Madison’s horticulture department. “We want varieties that are very well adapted to local environments that growers can produce easily and that have the best flavor.”

Dawson founded the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative after attending a 2013 conference hosted by Chef Dan Barber at Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture near New York City. The program works with plant breeders to provide seeds, then farmers test the various seeds to see how well they grow in the area. From there, area chefs meet to evaluate different products.

Dawson says the relationships are mutually beneficial. “Farmers want to know what chefs want to buy, and chefs want to support local farmers,” she says.

While conducting trials to determine which new varieties grow best in the upper Midwest, chefs have the opportunity to do tastings. Local participating chefs include Elena Terry of Wild Bearies, Kirk Smock of Origin Breads, Tami Lax of Harvest and The Old Fashioned, Molly Maciejewski of Madison Sourdough and Yusuf Bin-Rella of TradeRoots Culinary Collective.

A tomato variety currently involved in trials is 17H03. A cocktail-sized, yellow-and-orange tomato with a red burst in the middle, it has a high sugar and acid content. “It has a nice tomato flavor even though it’s a smaller yellow tomato,” Dawson says. This year they are planning to run trials on certain varieties of tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, winter squash, melons and carrots.

Not only are they able to test the various seeds and vegetables to determine the best products, they can also promote collaborations between the groups involved in the food growing and cooking process. “We are lucky to have such great farmers and chefs to work with, because they are what make the project work,” Dawson says.

Read more vegetable stories here.

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