Supporting Young Women in Science

Sharon Gray’s work in Ethiopia is not done.

The 30-year-old UC Davis postdoc had gone to the African nation to discuss the start of a plant biology research project. She and others — including Associate Professor Siobhan Brady — were in a car, driving on the outskirts of the capital city, Addis Ababa, when a rock came crashing through a window, striking and killing Gray. Brady was not injured.

Now, to preserve her legacy of mentorship, and hopefully bring this scientist to the United States,Gray’s family is raising money via GoFundMe to mentor women in science. “The mission of this current campaign is to make something positive out of this tragedy,” Markelz wrote for the GoFundMe site.

He said the family is discussing the exchange proposal with multiple institutions, including UC Davis and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where Gray received her Ph.D. Meanwhile, as of around 12:45 p.m. today (Oct. 11), the GoFundMe drive had raised more than $63,000 toward its $200,000 goal.

Memorial Fund:

Article detailing Sharon’s life and mentoring:

Antique Apples

Autumn is just around the corner, and instead of lamenting the end of summer, many Wisconsinites embrace cooler weather with fall activities.

One favorite excursion around the state is apple picking, which goes hand-in-hand with cider, donuts and pie. Many Wisconsin pick-your-own orchards and farm stands showcase “antique” or “heirloom” apple varieties, which have been passed down through generations of growers after being found from a chance seedling. Antique apples can have unusual flavors, textures, and aromas, and usually come with an interesting back-story too. Many are of U.S. or even Wisconsin origins.

In recent years, antique or heirloom varieties have become more popular at farmers’ markets and pick-your-own orchards, as consumers are searching for apples that are essentially different from those offered by big supermarket chains. This search for a “different” kind of apple is not only driven by the lack of choice and poor quality of apples offered by superstores, but also by a change in consumer preferences that are a consequence of increasing interest and concern regarding where and how fruit is grown.

Many of these rarer varieties can be found at many Wisconsin orchards and local direct markets, but it may take a little searching to get past the rows of Honeycrisp. Hundreds of varieties of antique apples are available — this list is meant as a starting point only.

Gravenstein is one the first varieties to ripen in the apple season. It originated in Denmark in 1669. The fruit is irregularly shaped with broad red stripes and a sweet-tart flavor. It’s great for eating fresh, or for making into sauces or cider. Ripens late July to early August.

Northfield Beauty originated in Vermont in the early 1800s. The fruit is medium-large, with a tart flavor extremely well suited for pies and sauces. Ripens in late August.

Duchess of Oldenburg is a cold-hardy plant, producing tart red apples, best used for making pies or sauces but also good for eating. A great early-season options, it can be found even in the northern parts of Wisconsin. Originating in Russia in the 1700s, it is naturally resistant to many diseases, reducing the need for pesticides. Ripens in late August.

Chenango Strawberry was discovered in the eastern United States in the early 19th century, and is renowned for its rich apple flavor and aroma, and beautiful mottled appearance. The skin and flesh is soft and juicy. Ripens early September.

Summer Rambo is a tart, crisp, juicy apple that originated in France in the 1500s. The fruit is greenish-yellow with a red blush. It’s good for both eating and for sauces. Ripens in early September.

Holstein Cox has large fruit with an intense sweet/tart flavor with intense citrus and pineapple aroma, and is good for eating or cooking. It is a relative newcomer, being developed in Germany in the early 1900s. Ripens in early September.

Court Pendu Plat was first described in France in the 1600s, but is thought to have been brought there much earlier during the time of the Roman Empire. It has a dense texture, and balance of sweetness and acidity, making it excellent for cider and sauces, but also tasty fresh. Ripens in early September.

Wealthy makes a good eating apple with a mellow, sweet flavor. Having originated in Minnesota in 1868, it is very cold-hardy. Ripens in mid-September.

Pink Pearl is not only a novelty, with bright pink flesh underneath a smooth yellow skin, but is also a flavorful, tart, juicy and crisp apple. A suggested use is to make rosy-pink applesauce. This variety originated in California in the early 1900s. Ripens in mid-September.

Wolf River originated in central Wisconsin, and is an old-time favorite around the state. The large apples are primarily used for baking — supposedly one apple makes one pie! Ripens in late September.

Reinette Gris produces medium-sized sweet, crisp and dry fruit, with a red blush. The trees are very hardy and fruit keep well. It originated in France in the 1600s. Ripens in late September.

Egremont Russet, like other russetted apples, has lost popularity recently to the smooth shiny varieties generally showcased in grocery stores. However, despite its rough appearance, this variety is full of unique flavors, which have been described as nutty, smoky, or with anise undertones, which combined with a pear-like smooth texture makes for a one-of-a-kind apple. It originated in England in the 1800s. Ripens in late September to early October.

Northwestern Greening originated in Wisconsin in the late 1800s. It is the predominant apple-pie apple of the north, but is too tart for eating fresh. Ripens in October.

Arkansas Black is a deeply colored, crisp, and flavorful apple. For best flavor, store at least a month before eating; it can be stored up to eight months in refrigeration. Ripens in October.

Winesap is an old-timer favorite, with high sugar content, a crisp texture and deep red color. This variety originated in the US in the 1800s. Ripens in late October.

Newtown Pippin has a distinctive flavor, and firm, crisp flesh. The skin is light yellow-green with just a slight red blush. It was developed on Long Island, New York in the 1700s. This apple is excellent for eating fresh or for making cider. Ripens in late October.

Black Oxford produces a dark purple, almost black skinned fruit with tart, aromatic flesh. It originated in Oxford, Maine in the 1800s. The fruit keeps well in storage. Ripens in late October.

Source:  Wiscontext, September 23, 2016

Janet van Zoeren is a fruit crops associate with the University of Wisconsin-Extension. Amaya Atucha is a fruit crop specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension and UW Fruit Program, and an assistant professor in the UW-Madison Department of Horticulture. This article is adapted from an item originally published in Wisconsin Fruit News, Volume 1, Issue 9, a publication of the Fruit Crops Team 

Potato Industry and UW-Madison – a partnership

This video highlights an outstanding University/Industry partnership.

Breeding for Flavor

On a sticky weekday morning in August, a new restaurant called Estrellón (“big star” in Spanish) is humming with advanced prep and wine deliveries. All wood and tile and Mediterranean white behind a glass exterior, the Spanish-style eatery is the fourth venture of Madison culinary star Tory Miller. Opening is just three days away, and everything is crisp and shiny and poised.

Chef Miller takes a seat with colleagues Jonny Hunter of the Underground Food Collective 2016-09-13_8-47-52and Dan Bonanno of A Pig in a Fur Coat. The chefs are here to lend their highend taste buds to science, and they start to banter about tomato flavor. What are the key elements? How important are they relative to each other?

Despite their intense culinary dedication, these men rarely just sit down and eat tomatoes with a critical frame of mind. “I learned a lot about taste through this project,” says Hunter. “I really started thinking about how I defined flavor in my own head and how I experience it.”

This particular tasting was held last summer. And there have been many others like it over the past few years with Miller, Hunter, Bonanno and Eric Benedict BS’04, of Café Hollander.

The sessions are organized by Julie Dawson, a CALS/UW–Extension professor of horticulture who heads the Seed to Kitchen Collaborative (formerly called the Chef–Farmer–Plant Breeder Collaborative). Her plant breeding team from CALS will note the flavors and characteristics most valuable to the chefs. Triangulating this with feedback from select farmers, plant breeders will get one step closer to the perfect tomato. But not just any tomato: One bred for Upper Midwest organic growing conditions, with flavor vetted by some of our most discerning palates.

“We wanted to finally find a good red, round slicer, and tomatoes that look and taste like heirlooms but aren’t as finicky to grow,” says Dawson at the August tasting, referring to the tomato of her dreams. “We’re still not at the point where we have, for this environment, really exceptional flavor and optimal production characteristics.”

Nationwide, the tomato has played a symbolic role in a widespread reevaluation of our food system. The pale, hard supermarket tomatoes of January have been exhibit A in discussions about low-wage labor and food miles. Seasonally grown heirloom tomatoes have helped us understand how good food can be with a little attention to detail.

But that’s just the tip of the market basket, because Dawson’s project seeks to strengthen a middle ground—an Upper Midwest ground, actually—in the food system. With chefs, farmers and breeders working together, your organic vegetables should get tastier, hardier, more abundant and more local where these collaborations exist.

Please continue reading this story on the Grow magazine website.

Note: The Seed to Kitchen Collaborative is one of the projects that will be featured at the upcoming Horticulture Showcase on Thursday, Sept. 15, and there are still tickets available to a dinner event featuring the work of the Collaborative that will take place immediately after the showcase.


Phil Simon Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Horticulture professor Phil Simon is the recipient of the National Association of Plant Breeders Lifetime Achievement Award for 2016.

Phil Simon 2015Simon was selected based on his outstanding achievements and cutting edge research as a carrot breeder and geneticist, as well as the distinguished service and exceptional leadership he has provided on a regional, national and international level.

The award, given out to one person each year, recognizes individuals who have given distinguished long-term service to the plant breeding discipline in areas such as breeding/genetics research and publication, education (graduate or undergraduate training), extension outreach, and regional, national, and/or international leadership.

Medicinal Plant Symposium September 30

The Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is holding a unique Medicinal Plant Symposium on Friday, September 30, 2016 from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.

This is a free event and is available to the general public. The symposium will feature an evening filled with a community of professionals, students and the general public for a series of talks about medicinal plants.

The event will include talks by community professionals from 1 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. in the Ebling Auditorium in the Microbial Sciences building on UW campus, followed by a reception at Allen Centennial Garden from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., where attendees can explore the live collections of medicinal plants, mingle and enjoy refreshments.

There will be six speakers including fellow UW-Madison faulty from the Department of Family Medicine, Bruce Barrett and David Kiefer. Other speakers include, Edith Leoso of the Bad River Tribal Historic Preservation Office, Jeff Grignon from Menominee Tribal Enterprises, Yangbum Gyal from the Medicine Buddha Healing Center and Tibetan Medicine & Acupuncture and Chris Tyrrell from the Milwaukee Public Museum.

The talks will cover a range of topics including, a historical overview of the use of herbal medicines; traditional knowledge of plant healing; the intricate relationships of humans and plants in Wisconsin Native American communities; a Tibetan perspective on medicinal plants; using Echinacea to treat the common cold; and the importance of ethnobotanical collections.

To register for this event visit For more information, contact Claudia Calderón at or (608) 416-9335.

Originally posted in eCALS by Kaitlin McIntosh, Allen Centennial Garden student Intern

Farm to Flavor dinner will feature plant breeding efforts

Farm to Flavor is a signature dinner experience and celebration of Wisconsin food that will be held on Thursday, September 15, 2016 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. in the Mendota Room inside Dejope Hall. It brings together the plant breeders, farmers, and chefs responsible for creating a new local cuisine. These co-creators encompass the motto that food is made at the intersection of seed, farm, and kitchen.

Taste the results of collaborative plant breeding in small plates from Madison’s highly acclaimed chefs including, Jonny Hunter of Underground Food Collective, Tory Miller of I’Etoile, Dan Bonnano of Pig in a Fur Coat and Eric Benedict of Café Hollander. Guest speaker Ken Greene of the Hudson Valley Seed Library will kick off a dinner discussion about the intersection of crop varieties, culture and art. Questions about plant breeding, farming and food systems are welcomed throughout the dinner.

Prior to the dinner, from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m., a free plant-breeding showcase held at Allen Centennial Garden will give attendees the opportunity to meet leading plant breeders responsible for developing fruits and vegetables adapted for Wisconsin’s organic farms. While sampling the results, attendees will learn how collaborative plant breeding can increase productivity and the profitability of regional organic farms.

The cost to attend the dinner is $35 in advance and $40 the day of the event. Register at

For more information, contact Julie Dawson at or (608) 609-6165.

Boys Scouts earn Plant Sciences merit badges

Reported in eCALS on 8/22/2016 by Caroline Schneider, CALS Office of External Relations

Last Saturday, Aug. 20, Kevin Cope, a graduate student in Jean-Michel Ané’s lab, organized a Plant Science Merit Badge Workshop for Boy Scouts. The workshop was held in conjunction with the Plant Sciences Graduate Student Council (PSGSC) with help from PSGSC president Chris D’Angelo, a graduate student in Irwin Goldman’s lab. Boy Scouts from across Wisconsin and parts of Illinois attended, and 48 scouts earned the badge. More than 15 graduate student volunteers from several different departments and programs helped with the workshop.

Scouts attending the workshop took part in lectures, hands-on experiments, and tours of the D.C. Smith Greenhouse and the Allen Centennial Gardens. Said one parent who attended the workshop, “My son commented on how much they learned and came home in very good spirits after a long day. We’ve been to many different merit badge workshops…[This] was one of the best run and highest-quality workshops we’ve seen.”

This is the second time Kevin, who serves as vice president of PSGSC, has organized this workshop with the student council. They plan to continue offering this merit badge workshop in the future so that young men interested in plant science can learn more and enjoy the facilities that UW–Madison has to offer. They are also interested in expanding the workshop to involve young women and welcome ideas about how to do that. Contact Kevin at with any questions or suggestions.

CALS Vegetable Breeders Leave Their Mark

Tucked behind campus’ Walnut Street Greenhouses sits a nondescript brick building known colloquially as the “Carrot and Beet Lab.” It doesn’t look like much, but its exterior tells the story of an important campus legacy. Etched into its walls are various names, dates and symbols carved by UW-Madison faculty, staff and students who were—or are—involved in the university’s carrot and beet breeding research

The small building, built in 1910, originally functioned as a barn to house campus animals. In 1949, it was converted into a cooler to store carrot, beet and onion roots by Warren “Buck” Gabelman, who grew into an internationally respected plant breeder over the course of his 42 years with the Department of Horticulture. Ever since, the facility has functioned as a common space for campus’ various vegetable breeding labs.

Irwin Goldman, professor and chair of the horticulture department, recalls students and researchers nicknaming the building “The Clubhouse” which accurately portrays the building as a common ground used for lunch breaks, yard games, and conversation.

“Yes, it’s a campus building. Yes, it’s a place where we house our research materials, but it is also a gathering place, a place for people to play cards at lunch time and park their bikes,” says Goldman, who has been in charge of the Carrot and Beet Lab for the past 24 years.

From early on, as students and researchers moved on from the lab, they began carving their names on the south-facing wall to commemorate their time spent there. Thus, a new tradition was born.

One of the bricks bears the name of Robert Kane, who works as a plant breeder in the horticulture department. According to Kane, who has witnessed the evolution of the wall over time, the names are like a family tree of campus’ vegetable breeders. While each engraving represents a unique individual, the wall gives viewers a sense of the depth of the Lab’s alumni and current membership and the cumulative impact of their efforts.

“I’ve heard UW-Madison referred to as ‘the well’ of horticulture because of its variety and depth of talent,” says Kane. “If researchers needed anything—from someone with decades of professional experience to a fresh pair of eyes—they would go to ‘the well’ to recruit new team members.”

Upon close inspection, the wall contains the names of a number of veggie celebrities such as Warren Gabelman, Rodger Freeman, Fred Bliss and JF “Rick” Watson II. All trained at UW-Madison and carved their names before going on to make influential contributions to the world of agriculture.

“These are people in our field who are now legendary figures, but who all once trained there in the modest little place called the Carrot and Beet Lab,” says Goldman.

The carving tradition still lives on today. With the names of such famous predecessors written just to the left or the right of fresh signatures, one can’t help but wonder what incredible accomplishments these recent graduates might achieve.

Originally posted by:  Gilliane Davison, student employee, CALS Office of External Relations in ecals newsletter Friday, August 5th, 2016

Seed To Kitchen Collaborative Seeks More Flavors For Local Produce

While local food can be viewed as both an eternal and contemporary concept, a basic way-of-life present throughout humanity’s history and a fashionable type of grocery purchase, the science behind what it is and means is still taking shape. The very definition of “local” with respect to food is not universal, nor are the primary types of foods grown for sale in markets geared towards the desires of locally-oriented consumers.

Julie Dawson, an urban agricultural specialist with the University of Wisconsin-Extension and an assistant professor in the UW-Madison Department of Horticulture, is working to expand the understanding of local food and how people consume it. Since she arrived in Wisconsin in 2013, Dawson has focused on farms and growers that sell their products in urban areas and through direct exchanges. This means she gets to explore local foods in a broad range of settings, including farmers’ markets, community gardens, community-supported agriculture exchanges, grocery stores that market local goods, and restaurants that serve dishes made with locally sourced ingredients.

One specific element of Dawson’s research focuses on identifying new varieties of fruits and vegetables that are particularly suited to local settings. She places an emphasis on characteristics like flavor, which drive smaller-scale purchase decisions. A July 1, 2016 report on Wisconsin Public Television’s Here And Now introduced her work researching varieties of produce that could be suitable for local food markets.

“Local food systems and farms that are growing for the local market can manage for the best flavor, choose the varieties that have the best flavor, and get it to your table within hours or a few days so that flavor is still there,” Dawson said.

“If you’re getting vegetables from a local farmer, often those have the best flavor, and so you want to eat more, and that in itself will improve people’s health,” said Dawson in the Here And Now report.

This niche of agricultural production is called peri-urban, in which the food’s consumers are based in a specific populated area. Peri-urban areas are transitional zones where rural and urban land uses and development characteristics mix — characteristics one often finds at the edges of growing metropolitan areas. In agricultural terms, that means farms “that are primarily marketing to urban areas,” as Dawson explained in the September 15, 2014 edition of the UW Ag Podcast.

Dawson is the first researcher at UW to focus on how peri-urban agriculture fits into local food systems and direct-to-market economies.

“For some of the larger growing regions that ship across the country, the primary traits are yield, shelf life, shipping, things that are going to get the vegetable from the field to somebody’s table, when that’s 4,000 miles apart,” she said on Here And Now.

But the local food consumer particularly values flavor and texture. Dawson’s lab focuses on these traits through its Seed to Kitchen Collaborative. The project brings together plant breeders, farmers and chefs to assess different varieties of plants and vegetables with an eye (or more appropriately, a set of taste buds) for determining which could tempt purchasers of local food.

“Flavor is a very complex trait and it’s obviously subjective because it’s something that every person experiences a little differently,” Dawson said.

For example, in its 2015 tomato trial, the project examined more than three dozen varieties, growing each inside a hoophouse and in the field. Among the characteristics they tracked were the percentage that germinated, the date of the plants’ flowering, the average marketable and unmarketable yields per plant, the average number of fruits per plant, the average fruit weight and percentage unmarketable by weight, and the primary reasons for unmarketability (often diseases like bacterial speck or nutrition issues like blossom end rot).

These tests also tracked feedback from farmers growing some of the varieties, who shared their perspective on flavor, flaws and marketability. Summer growing crews also participated in flavor tests, in which the tasters offered their personal rankings on multiple characteristics, including sweetness, saltiness, acidity, bitterness and umami, along with texture and color. To complete the trial, several chefs tasted the tomato varieties, describing their perceived strengths and flaws, and suggested how they might serve it and whether or not they would purchase the variety for themselves or their restaurants.

Chefs participating in the taste-testing are from some of Madison’s highest-profile restaurant kitchens. Their input is particularly valued, the Wisconsin State Journal reported, due to their palates and accompanying ability to discern seemingly minor differences between produce varieties.

“The goal of this project is really to experiment with interesting vegetables that can be grown for all of the different local food markets in Wisconsin,” said Dawson to Here And Now.

The Seed to Kitchen Collaborative has tested multiple types of produce, including carrots, peppers, melons and squash, among others.

Editor’s note: Here And Now producer Andy Soth contributed to this report.

Seed To Kitchen Collaborative Seeks More Flavors For Local Produce was originally published on WisContext which produced the article in a partnership between Wisconsin Public Radio, Wisconsin Public Television and Cooperative Extension.