Researchers Partner With Chefs, Farmers To Breed Tastier Produce

Partnership Will Develop New Varieties Of Fruits, Vegetables Without Genetic Modifications

Bell peppers sold at the Dane County Farmers' Market. Photo: Emily Mills (CC-BY-ND).

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison are partnering with chefs and local farmers to breed tastier vegetables as part of a national movement to increase use of locally grown produce in restaurants and markets.

The new versions of the vegetables and fruit won’t be developed using genetic modification. Instead, the new varieties will be the product of “old-fashioned” breeding. Since that process takes time, the new produce — things like sweeter carrots and spicier peppers — won’t be available to consumers for a few years at least.

The partnership behind the effort came about after UW-Madison researchers and a Madison chef went to a culinary conference in New York that paired up chefs, plant breeders and farmers to create better, tastier produce. Julie Dawson, an assistant professor of horticulture, said that she came home from the conference with an idea.

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“We got a group together in Madison in January to say, ‘Can’t we do something like this here?’ We’ve got probably the largest number of vegetable breeders in the country at UW-Madison, we have good partnerships with independent seed companies and breeders at those companies, and we have a great group of local chefs that are interested in supporting farmers,” said Dawson.

One of the chefs participating in the partnership, Jonny Hunter of Underground Food Collective, said Wisconsin is embracing the movement with unparalleled energy.

“I think we have a higher participation rate. It’s probably going to happen more often,” said Hunter. “I know a lot of the other programs that I’ve seen happen is a conference that happens once a year — we’re getting boxes every week.”