Program focuses on organic vegetable varieties

The Oregon State University Small Farms program is working to ‘weed out’ vegetable varieties that don’t work well for organic farmers in the Northwest and find varieties that do.

On Sept. 11, the fourth annual Vegetable Variety Field Day will be held at the North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora, Ore., where members of the project, seed company representatives, farmers and chefs gather to view, taste and discuss different varieties of vegetables.

The program’s main focus is to “find more suitable (vegetable) varieties for organic farmers,” said Lane Selman, an agricultural researcher at OSU and founder and director of the Culinary Breeding Network.

The program brings together people from different steps of the production process, according to Heidi Noordijk, who works for the Metro Area OSU Small Farms Program and is in charge of the vegetable program along with Selman.

“It’s kind of like threading the story together,” Noordijk said, describing how the field day is a place for the seed representatives to come and see how the varieties grow, but also for farmers to understand how the plants behave in the Northwest’s climate. The field day is also a chance for chefs to learn the culinary traits that each plat offers.

The event, running from 3pm to 6pm, consists of walking through the field to look at the plants and discussion of their traits. Attendees also have the opportunity to taste different varieties of specific plant side by side, according to Noordijk.

“A chef prepares different varieties of pepper, carrots, tomatoes and cucumbers,” she said.

Following the tastings, the chef also prepares other food that is grown there for a time of networking, Selman said, noting that the event is a chance for the growers to connect with the seed representatives or plant breeders and chefs to meet with growers.

“It is kind of creating a community and conversation between the farmers the chefs and produce buyers,” Noordijk said.

“It is also a chance for our growers to see some of the varieties coming out in the seed catalog,” Noordijk said.

According to Selman, not all varieties work well for organic farmers, especially when it comes to vegetables. The program is geared toward finding the varieties that work well. By growing them at the research center, the farmers don’t have to try them all out themselves.

The program started as a way to find different vegetable varieties for chefs, “It started off with the culinary breeding network looking at different crops that chefs were interested in,” Noordijk said.

“We would collect different varieties and grow them and the chefs would come look at them here.”

The program is currently growing a variety of crops including, tomatoes, peppers, winter squash, cucumbers, leeks, carrots and lettuce

Information about the field day can be found at: https://bit.ly/2OHG4AC