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.
WASHINGTON, July 6, 2016 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — Extension specialists and Master Gardeners from the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences Extension and the University of Wisconsin-Extension will partner with Agriculture is America (AgIsAmerica), a national communications initiative aimed at highlighting the nation’s land-grant institutions, to host a Twitter Town Hall on July 8 at 2 PM ET.
This past spring, CALS agroecology graduate student Kitt Healy won second place in the Water Sustainability and Climate Project’s Our Waters, Our Future writing contest, which sought short stories about positive futures for water and people in south-central Wisconsin. As part of Healy’s award, her story, “The Incarnation of Nelmi Jane,” is featured in Madison Magazine’s June online issue.
The contest was an effort to encourage imaginative thinking about desirable and possible futures for the region. It was a collaboration of the UW-Madison’s Water Sustainability and Climate Project and Center for Limnology, Sustain Dane, the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts & Letters, and Madison Magazine.
Contest submissions came from all over Wisconsin and were judged in part based on their scientific plausibility, a call made by a team of four scientists from UW-Madison.
Wisconsin-based literary leaders Peter Annin, journalist and author of Great Lakes Water Wars, and poet Fabu, Madison’s third poet laureate, along with Madison Magazine, made the final decision on the first- and second-place winners.
“The Incarnation of Nelmi Jane has beautiful poetic lines woven throughout the story. It combines the realities of not taking good care of our water with the hope that new life and better understanding bring,” said Fabu of Healy’s story.
The contest ran from November 2015 through January 2016, and the winners were announced in March.
Read Healy’s story here.
The Flambeau River Community Growing Center in Park Falls, Wisconsin, which was founded with the help of CALS horticulturalists, (Mike Geiger and Dr. Sara Patterson) has been selected to receive a Top Rural Development Initiative award from Wisconsin Rural Partners, Inc.
Wisconsin Rural Partners, Inc. (WRP) is a statewide non-profit organization that develops rural networks and leaders, and provides a voice for rural Wisconsin. WRP is the federally-recognized State Rural Development Council for Wisconsin.
This is the sixteenth year that WRP has recognized Wisconsin’s Top Rural Development Initiatives. The program is designed to identify, highlight, and share innovative models, practices and programs that have a positive impact on rural Wisconsin communities.
Here’s the description of the Flambeau River Community Growing Center from the WRP news release:
Flambeau River Community Growing Center, Park Falls
It started in 2012 with the idea of using waste heat from the Flambeau Mill to heat a greenhouse which could provide higher educational classes, a food source for the food pantry, and community gardens. Through a collaboration with UW- Madison, the Flambeau Mill, UWEX – Price County, and the Flambeau River Community Growing Center committee, a nonprofit 510(c)3 organization was established. Today, the vision has been realized and the growing center provides educational classes, and community support through the availability of raised beds for community members and through the provision of fresh foods for the local food pantries.
Originally posted at ecals.cals.wisc.edu/2016/05/17
The Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment competitive grant program is open to UW–Madison faculty, staff and students. Grants of up to $120,000 and mini-grants of up to $4,000 are awarded.
Ira Baldwin, a longtime UW teacher, researcher and administrator, served as dean of the Graduate School and the College of Agriculture and as vice president for academic affairs. Ineva Reilly Baldwin taught and served in the university administration as assistant dean of women and associate dean of the College of Letters & Science. Their endowment is one of the largest gifts ever received by UW–Madison.
Building a Comprehensive Network of Fruit Growers to Improve Sustainable Production of Fruit Crops in Wisconsin
Christelle Guédot, assistant professor of entomology, and Amaya Atucha, assistant professor of horticulture
Fruit production in Wisconsin contributes over $400 million to the state economy and encompasses large-scale commercial growers, small-scale growers, as well as homeowners. The goal of the project is to develop new avenues for effectively delivering time-sensitive information on environmentally sound pest management practices and sustainable fruit crop production to all fruit growers, with special attention to underserved communities in the state of Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Fruit Program under the direction of Dr. Amaya Atucha has announced their re-designed website. Of particular information on the site are links to their regularly published newsletter “Wisconsin Fruit News”. Those who wish can get the newsletter direct by providing an email address. http://fruit.wisc.edu/
The “HortLegs and More” team participated in the CrazyLegs Classic race the eighth consecutive year.
Carrot genome paints picture of domestication, could help improve crop
Sometimes, the evolutionary history of a species can be found in a fossil record. Other times, rocks and imprints must be swapped for DNA and genetic fingerprints.
The latter is the case for the good-for-your-eyes carrot, a top crop whose full genetic code was just deciphered by a team of researchers led by University of Wisconsin–Madison horticulture professor and geneticist Phil Simon. Simon is also a research scientist with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service, which helped fund the work. The study is published today in the journal Nature Genetics.
It tells a story of how the carrot has been touched by domestication and breeding practices and influenced by environmental and geologic change, and it fills in a family tree of relatives that otherwise appear distinct. It also reveals how carrots have become so good at accumulating carotenoids, the pigment compounds that give them their characteristic colors and provide them with their nutritional strength.
“The carrot has a good reputation as a crop and we know it’s a significant source of nutrition — vitamin A, in particular,” Simon says. “Now, we have the chance to dig deeper and it’s a nice addition to the toolbox for improving the crop.”
The knowledge gained from the study could also lead to the improvement of similar crops, from parsnip to the yellow-fleshed cassava, a staple food throughout much of Africa.
“This was an important public-private project, and the genomic information has already been made available to assist in improving carrot traits such as enhanced levels of beta-carotene, drought tolerance and disease resistance,” says co-author Allen Van Deynze, director of research at the University of California, Davis’ Seed Biotechnology Center. “Going forward, the genome will serve as the basis for molecular breeding of the carrot.”
Carrots have a long history as a domesticated root crop. The first cultivated carrots appeared 1,100 years ago in Central Asia. These carrots were — unlike their white wild ancestors — purple and yellow. The canonical orange carrot appeared later, in Europe in the 1500s, providing at the time an aesthetic subject for German and Spanish art. Even before domestication, wild carrot seeds showed up in 3,000- to 5,000-year-old primitive campsites in Germany and Switzerland.
The study cannot answer why the first crops were purple and yellow, though it can verify that it is not because of flavor. The genes for color and the genes associated with preferred flavors are not connected. But that colored carrots became popular is fortuitous: The pigments are what make them nutritious, and orange carrots are the most nutritious of all, Simon says. Carrots are the richest crop source of vitamin A in the American diet.
The new study reveals how that orange color happens. “The accumulation of orange pigments is an accumulation that normally wouldn’t happen,” says Simon, one of just a few carrot researchers around the world, along with another UW–Madison scientist, Irwin Goldman, who was not part of this study. “Now, we know what the genes are and what they do.”
The research team used the Nantes carrot — a bright orange form of the vegetable named for a city in France — to assemble and analyze the full genetic sequence, peering into the machinery that drove the carrot’s evolution, and the bread crumbs left through time.
The carrot genome contains more than 32,000 genes arranged among nine chromosomes, which code for pest and disease resistance, colorful carotenoids and more. Carotenoids, like alpha- and beta-carotene, were first discovered in carrots.
The researchers uncovered features traced to distantly related plant species, from grapes and tomatoes to kiwis and potatoes. Carrots more recently split from lettuce and they are in the same family as spice crops, like parsley and fennel.
The researchers also sequenced 35 different types of carrots to compare them to their wild ancestors. They showed carrots were first domesticated in the Middle East and Central Asia, confirming the Vavilov Center of Diversity theory, which predicts cultivated plants arose from specific regions rather than randomly.
They also learned that sometime between the Cretaceous and Paleogene periods — roughly around the time dinosaurs went extinct — carrots picked up genetic advantages common to other plants of the era that allowed them to thrive.
Additionally, the study confirmed a gene called Y is responsible for the difference between white carrots and yellow or orange ones, and that a variation of it leads to the accumulation of carotenoids.
“They could keep their crops ‘clean’ from a patch of wild carrots growing 50 meters away by choosing only the purple or yellow ones. Or maybe it was the food fad of the 10th century …”
But it also identified a new, previously unknown gene that contributes to the accumulation of the colorful compounds. Both genes are recessive, which means two copies of each are needed for carotenoids to build up in the plant, which is actually a defect in a metabolic pathway that appears to be related to light-sensing.
Plants derive their own nutrition through light-sensing, or photosynthesis, but roots like carrots aren’t normally exposed to light and do not need photosynthetic pigments like carotenoids. “It’s a repurposing of genes plants usually use when growing in light,” says Simon.
It appears these genes were inadvertently selected for by early growers, and Simon suggests it may have simply been to aid early domesticators — likely to have been women — differentiate between wild carrots and the plants they intended to grow.
“They could keep their crops ‘clean’ from a patch of wild carrots growing 50 meters away by choosing only the purple or yellow ones,” says Simon, who jokes: “Or maybe it was the food fad of the 10th century, with orange in the 16th.”
Global carrot consumption quadrupled between 1976 and 2013 and over the last 40 years, breeding has led to more nutritious carrots with the selection of ever more intensely orange crops. In fact, carrots have 50 percent more carotene today than they did in 1970.
While most Americans are not deficient in vitamin A, it is considered an essential nutrient and deficiency is a problem in some U.S. communities and around the world. While the study may not solve the problem, it does highlight the opportunity carrots present to improve health and economic outcomes in other nations.
“Globally, we hand out vitamin A capsules, but why not have people grow their own?” Simon asks. “In one square meter you can grow a single crop of carrots per year to feed up to a half dozen adults. You can grow half now and half in six months to give you a sustainable source of vitamin A and a valuable crop in the marketplace.”
The study also reflects a shift in how plant breeders operate, by taking advantage of new technologies to answer basic questions about cultivated crops.
“It tells us things about the genome we expected but didn’t know before,” says Simon. “Each crop has a story to tell.”
The study also includes co-authors from Michigan State University and around the world, including Poland, Spain, Italy, Turkey, China and Argentina. It was funded by several seed companies and the carrot industry, as well as the National Science Foundation, the Polish National Science Center and the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education. The authors declare no competing financial interests and Simon explains that industry funds make the work possible.
Reposted from: http://news.wisc.edu/carrot-genome-paints-picture-of-domestication-could-help-improve-crops/#sthash.le7Xxay2.dpuf by Kelly April Tyrell
Every gardener counts the days to spring. At Allen Centennial Garden on the UW-Madison campus, they have been counting the plants, too.
As interns work on an online plant databank, which should be ready by mid-summer, the garden’s new director, Ben Futa, is looking at a schedule that includes therapy dogs, slow food, 3,000 new bulbs and an updated Master Plan. A key point of that plan is that the garden should not grow beyond its 27 separate exhibit areas, but should mature. Education and public engagement will be a focus, in keeping with the hiring of an education coordinator, Elin Meliska.
The garden — it is singular — at Babcock and Observatory Drives may be the most accessible classroom on campus, with the most diverse syllabus. Even on a recent chilly Sunday, the walkers in the 2.5 acres surrounding the vintage 1896 Agriculture Dean’s House ranged from an old man and his dog to curious children to students from the nearby Lakeshore dormitories.
A visitor in the next week or so will be treated to a colorful result of a student project from last fall, when 3,000 Chionodoxa, Scilla, narcissus, hyacinth, and muscari bulbs were planted in the “English garden” area.
Futa, an Indiana native starting his second year as director, said that while several student interns and a new education coordinator are at work, there is a full schedule of events on tap for the garden this spring.
The garden, named after Oscar and Ethel Allen, who were prominent faculty, was dedicated in 1989, the 100th anniversary of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences.
Current visitors will find two new serene landscape design projects underway, both winners of a student team contest. April 27 is already booked solid for an “open-mike” night featuring horticulture-related events. Therapy dogs will host a meet-and-pet event, “Dogs on Call,” May 4; and there’s a Slow Food UW Cafe on May 6.
Mid-summer should see completion of a unique online plant database, Futa said.
“It’s a world-class garden,” he noted, “with a wonderful group of volunteers. The community is craving and ready for these new programs.”
In February, an intern-planned event, “Luminous,” featured six luminary exhibits, bonfires and hot chocolate. It drew 3,000 visitors, when no more than 300 were expected.
“The bones of this garden are extremely strong,” Futa said. “We’re gearing up to an update of our master plan, re-evaluating everything.”
The garden is open daily from dawn to dusk. Parking is free at the Observatory Drive ramp and Tripp Circle after 4:30 p.m. Monday–Friday, and all day Saturday and Sunday.
Story Reprinted from Wisconsin State Journal – George Hesselberg
Just as some seeds yield tomatoes, carrots and lettuce, others grow community and partnership.
In a greenhouse in the northern Wisconsin town of Park Falls, all of those seeds are taking root with the help of CALS horticulture graduate student Michael Geiger, horticulture professor Sara Patterson and a team of dedicated local leaders.
“The greenhouse has opened doors to making healthier food choices, to education about gardening in local schools—and it’s given the university a presence in Park Falls,” says Geiger, who grew up in Arbor Vitae, some 50 miles away.
Geiger’s involvement with the project – called the Flambeau River Community Growing Center – started as an idea in 2012. That’s when his friend Tracey Snyder, a nurse practitioner developing a wellness program at the nearby Flambeau River Papers mill in Park Falls, approached him seeking guidance on the greenhouse project.
“I was very interested in what she was saying and thought it was something that would be fun to work on,” says Geiger, who then was a senior horticulture student at UW-Madison.
Snyder’s group was seeking funding for a greenhouse project, and Geiger teamed with Patterson to identify possible revenue sources. They developed a proposal for the Ira and Ineva Reilly Baldwin Wisconsin Idea Endowment at UW–Madison.
Their proposal was funded in the summer of 2013, and by the fall construction had begun on a 25-by-50-foot vail-style greenhouse, built by community volunteers on a vacant lot donated by Flambeau River Papers just north of the mill.
The greenhouse, built to withstand the heavier snows of northern Wisconsin, features in-floor radiant heating and custom greenhouse growing tables made of locally purchased white cedar and built by volunteers. Plans call for the facility to eventually be heated with waste steam from the mill.
The Flambeau River Community Growing Center has gained popularity with community members and school groups interested in learning about plants and gardening. “It’s a greenhouse, but it’s also a classroom,” says Geiger.
Learners include children from the Chequamegon School District, who start seeds in the greenhouse and nurture seedlings until they can be transplanted to their own outdoor school gardens. Area 4–H groups grow plants and tend them in raised beds just outside the greenhouse. Master Gardener classes are held at the facility, and community workshops have included such topics as square-foot and container gardening as well as hydroponics. Kids have been delighted with sessions on soil testing and painting their own flowerpots.
“It’s clearly a benefit to build a connection between UW–Madison and the community, for the community itself—people from ages 3 to 90—and for the local schools,” Patterson says.
Community leaders and institutions have joined to fuel the center’s success. Its chief executive officer, Tony Thier, recently retired from Flambeau River Papers, says UW–Extension has provided valuable educational and technical support, and volunteer opportunities draw professionals from various companies in the area. Park Falls attorney Janet Marvin helped the center gain nonprofit status last fall.
Thier says the center provides needed education for area residents. “It’s been very beneficial,” he says. “When I got involved, it really became a passion. I wanted to learn more about gardening and increase my skill. We try to involve the whole community.”
Geiger says the project has helped him in his academic career as he learned about project planning, gave presentations about the center at two national academic conferences and writes scholarly articles about his work there.
“I’ve been able to see this process through from an idea to reality,” says Geiger. “It’s been really rewarding.”
Original Posting: Dennis Chaptman, ecals.cals.wisc.edu 04.14.2016 All photos courtesy of Mike Geiger.