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A group of chefs, farmers and UW plant breeders gathered recently at Madison’s L’Étoile restaurant to discuss opportunities for collaboration on flavor for local food systems, reports Julie Dawson, who joined CALS last summer as assistant professor of horticulture and Extension urban agriculture specialist. The discussion included strategies for finding varieties with unique qualities and the best way to get these to farmers and chefs. One idea is to expand the vegetable demonstration gardens at the West Madison ag research station to showcase  promising new varieties of different crops and to host field days and tastings for interested chefs and farmers.

Gathering of chefs, farmers and plant breeders at L’Étoile in Madison.
Gathering of chefs, farmers and plant breeders at L’Étoile in Madison.

“(Breeders) have very effectively combined traits such as disease resistance, yield, shelf life and uniformity of size, shape etc. into modern varieties targeted to wholesale markets, as this is what has been prioritized by many farmers and the seed industry.  But there is no reason why flavor and agronomic performance in low-input and organic systems could not be a breeding priority as well, if enough public interest is demonstrated,” Dawson writes.

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