Veggie earrings make a statement

If you’ve ever gaped at the interior of a purple carrot or a beauty heart radish while preparing dinner, you have a sense DSC_01261-e1415044008777-1024x492of what inspired plant geneticist Shelby Ellison to start making earrings out of vegetables.

“When I first started working with various pigmented carrots, I couldn’t believe how beautiful they were,” says Ellison, a postdoc in horticulture professor Phil Simon’s lab who studies the genetic control of carotenoid and anthocyanin pigments, the health-promoting compounds that turn carrots and other vegetables orange, purple, red and yellow.

Over the years, Ellison has looked at carrots from all over the world – and found some really stunning patterns. She started turning some of them into earrings about two years ago, and she’s also given beets and potatoes a try.

How does it work? Ellison cuts the veggies into shapes and then dries the pieces in an industrial dehydrator. Next, she coats the slices with lacquer to protect them from moisture and fading. Finally, she adds the metal earwires.

“The first few pairs I made are now over two years old and they still look pretty cool. The orange and yellow pigments begin to fade as they are exposed to the sun, but they still draw a lot of attention,” says Ellison, who says people often think the earrings are made out of decorative wood.

She wore a pair of carrot earrings at the recent Science of Supper Clubs event at the Wisconsin Science Festival, where they sparked a number of conversations with festival attendees and served as a handy science outreach “prop.”

“It’s a really nice way to introduce non-scientists to my research,” she says. “I can then explain how different pigments confer different nutritional benefits, and that we focus on these pigments to create more nutritious carrot varieties.”

You can learn more about colorful carrot and their pigments from Ellison in this recent podCALS interview: 

Mike Maddox – Award for Excellence

Mike Maddox, Universitiy of Wisconsin-Extension Agriculture and Natural Resources horticulture specialist and Master Gardener Program Director, received a 2014 UW Colleges and UW-Extension Chancellor’s Award for Excellence for enhancing learning through innovative uses of technology and for making a difference through horticulture programs and volunteer efforts for a wide range of people.

Dawson receives NCR-SARE Grant

MADISON, Wis. — Julie Dawson, University of Wisconsin-Madison/Extension has recently been recommended for funding for a $199,866 grant from the North Central Region Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program (NCR-SARE) for the project “Tomato variety trials for flavor, quality and agronomic performance, to increase high-value direct marketing opportunities for farmers and on-farm trialing capacity”.

“This project will use participatory research methods to evaluate tomato varieties for agronomic traits, disease resistance, flavor and quality for local and regional markets in the NCR. Variety trials will be conducted on six participating farms and at two research stations. Tomato varieties will be evaluated for flavor and quality by a panel of chefs, farmers and selected consumers. An online database enabling farmers, chefs and researchers to easily exchange observations and data will be developed. This project will create a variety trialing and quality evaluation network that will also be used for other crops,” said Dawson.

Jeffrey Endelman Wins Award

Horticulture’s Jeffrey Endelman has been selected to receive the Elton D. and Carrie R. Aberle Faculty Fellow Award.

The award, established by former CALS dean Abe Aberle and his wife, is designed to recognize and reward promising young faculty within CALS, supporting them during their first few critical years as faculty members.

Master Gardener Program in Wisconsin

The latest issue of Grow: Wisconsin’s Magazine for the Life Sciences provides insight into Wisconsin’s Master Gardener program through the eyes of current volunteer Jane de Broux in the featured article “Gardening for the People”.

The Master Gardener program is housed within the Department of Horticulture in Moore Hall under the direction of Mike Maddox and Susan Mahr.