Bill Tracy

University of Wisconsin-Madison
Professor and Chair, Department of Agronomy
Madison, WI

Among Bill's earliest memories is a fascination with the diversity of plants. He feels incredibly fortunate to have been able to pursue his passion by studying and breeding sweet corn for more than 40 years. He works closely with commercial sweet corn breeders and has developed sweet corn inbreds grown commercially on every continent with arable land. Breeding of sweet corn began at UW in 1919, when there were numerous public sweet corn breeding programs. Bill, the fourth UW sweet corn breeder, now leads one of the two remaining public programs. This past February, Bill was named the Clif Bar and Organic Valley Chair in Organic Plant Breeding at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. This is the first ever endowed chair in organic plant breeding, awarded to someone with a track record in developing cultivars under certified organic conditions and training graduate students in organic plant breeding. He currently advises four graduate students working on research related to organic plant breeding.

Phil Simon

USDA-ARS, University of Wisconsin
Geneticist & Professor, Dept of Horticulture
Madison, WI

Phil’s research in vegetable genetics and breeding has focused on fresh market carrot improvement, targeting improved flavor and nutritional quality, nematode, disease and abiotic stress resistance, and genetic mapping of these and other traits. He led the USDA breeding effort in the development of widely used carrot germplasm with improved flavor and nutritional value, novel purple color, and root-knot nematode resistance. To complement his breeding effort, along with students and collaborators, he has developed breeding tools, including co-leadership in the sequencing of the carrot genome, and collected carrot, Allium, and other vegetable germplasm in nine collecting expeditions. Phil has undertaken related plant breeding research including the first production of true seed in garlic, and development of cucumber and melon germplasm with orange color and elevated carotene content.

Phil’s early career efforts focused on developing screening methods to breed for sweeter, less harsh carrot flavor, and high carotene carrots as an improved source of vitamin A. His release of purple carrot germplasm in the 1990’s proved a foundation for the re-introduction of novel carrot colors into modern US markets. He has led the Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) project to combine improved flavor and nutritional value in a range of carrot colors, with disease and pest resistance and also with larger tops for better weed competitiveness.

Jim Myers

Oregon State University
Professor, Plant Breeding and Genetics
Corvallis, OR

Jim holds the Baggett-Frazier Endowed Chair of Vegetable Breeding & Genetics at OSU. He works on crops both for processing (snap beans & broccoli) and fresh market (tomato, broccoli, snap pea, winter & summer squash and pepper). His main interest is to improve vegetable varieties for disease resistance and human nutrition while maintaining quality and productivity.

In recent years, he has been breeding for organic production and in collaborations with growers and chefs for culinary quality and flavor. Jim is the project director of the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative, a national project to increase the number of vegetable varieties adapted to organic systems. He has recently released a Peruano (yellow) dry bean with resistance to two major bean viruses. He is the originator of the Indigo (high anthocyanin) tomato class and his latest variety releases are ‘Indigo Rose’, ‘Indigo Cherry Drops’, and ‘Indigo Pear Drops’.

Irwin Goldman

University of Wisconsin
Professor and Chair, Department of Horticulture
Madison, WI

Irwin is a faculty member in the Department of Horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he has worked since 1992. His work focuses on vegetable breeding and genetics, particularly carrot, onion, and table beet. His laboratory studies the interaction between plants and human well-being, with a focus on health-related traits in vegetable crops. His program has developed inbred lines, open-pollinated cultivars, and improved germplasm that are in use by breeders and farmers around the world. Irwin teaches courses in evolutionary biology, plant breeding, vegetable crops and the relationship between plants and human health.

Irwin’s lab is currently breeding carrot, onion, and table beet for conventional and organic production systems. For over 60 years, the University of Wisconsin breeding program has released inbred lines, improved germplasm, and open pollinated populations for use by plant breeders and seed companies. In recent years, they have focused on traits that have direct appeal to consumers, including flavor and color. Irwin has a project to select for earthiness in table beet and a separate program to select for mild and sweet tasting germplasm. He is involved in studying vernalization requirements and dormancy in onion, and in shortening the breeding cycle of this biennial plant. In the last several years, Irwin and his colleagues have helped organize the Open Source Seed Initiative, which has made a number of varieties available through a unique open source pledge that keeps germplasm available for any purpose without restriction and an open, protected commons.

Michael Mazourek

Cornell University
Vegetable Breeder and Calvin Noyes Keeney Assistant Professor of Plant Breeding
Ithaca, NY

Michael’s vegetable breeding program is focused on cultivar development and associated genomic studies of pea, cucurbit and pepper crops for organic and conventional systems. His grower-driven traits focus on fungal and insect resistances in regionally adapted backgrounds to provide a reliable, productive harvest and reduce the need for pesticide applications. His consumer-driven traits focus on color, quality, flavor and novelty to drive the consumption of naturally nutritious food.

Michael has released ‘Habanada’, a mild habanero pepper, and ‘Honeynut’ which is a miniature butternut squash with uncommonly good quality due to a cross to buttercup squash decades ago in its pedigree. Buttercup contributes a fine-grained texture and a rind that starts out green; only a ‘Honeynut’ with a solid deep orange rind is all the way ripe. Unlike a buttercup squash, ‘Honeynut’ is much less susceptible to vine borers and cucumber beetles, meaning the squash is easier to grow without pesticides. Like most butternut squash, ‘Honeynut’ requires a long growing season. Curing should be done with care because ‘Honeynut’ has a thin rind and dries out easily. Currently, Michael is developing new versions of ‘Honeynut’ through field trials with Jack Algiere at Stone Barns Center and tastings with Dan Barber of Blue Hill restaurant.

Pat Hayes

Oregon State University
Professor, Department of Crop and Soil Science
Corvallis, OR

Pat’s research team focuses on barley in its many forms and uses. His current research interests include: development of winter habit barley varieties for malting and human nutrition; the many facets of winter hardiness; dissection of quantitative disease resistance; characterization and utilization of genetic diversity; stimulating local barley production; and barley quality assessment.

Under his direction, the OSU Barley Project has released 13 varieties/germplasms, developed 12 mapping populations, distributed approximately 14 MT of germplasm, published 145 papers in refereed journals and authored 13 book chapters.

Brigid Meints

Washington State University
PhD candidate with Stephen Jones
Mount Vernon, WA

Brigid Meints grew up in Corvallis, Oregon and developed a love for plants at a young age. She earned a BA from Scripps College in Anthropology and Gender & Women’s Studies, but found her way back to plants after graduation when she began working for the barley breeding program at Oregon State University with Pat Hayes. She earned her Masters of Science from OSU in Crop Science with a focus in Plant Breeding & Genetics.

In the Fall of 2014, she began working towards a PhD under the direction of Dr. Stephen Jones. Her project focuses on breeding and trialing barley and dry beans for production in northwestern Washington.

Colin Curwen-McAdams

Washington State University
PhD candidate with Stephen Jones
Mount Vernon, WA

Colin is a Clif Bar Seed Matters Fellow working on a PhD with Dr. Stephen Jones in The Bread Lab at Washington State University. His work is focused around re-imagining and differentiating wheat to support a regional grain economy and diverse agricultural systems in the costal Northwest.

Colin is breeding a perennial grain crop based on wheat as a dual use grain and forage crop that can remain in for multiple seasons, adding organic matter, reducing tillage and offering options for animal integrated systems. He is also breeding blue and purple spring wheat varieties specifically for whole wheat sourdough baking. The colors do not fit into established classifications and offer an opportunity to develop regional sales outside of the commodity markets. The breeding work is tied together by an investigation of how intellectual property restrictions might impact regional breeding efforts, with an appreciation of the cultural and nutritional importance of whole grains for communities.

The Seed to Kitchen Collaborative

University of Wisconsin-Madison
Madison, WI

The Seed to Kitchen Collaborative, led by Julie Dawson, engages plant breeders, farmers and chefs to evaluate and co-create high quality vegetable varieties for organic production in the upper Midwest. Participants set priorities 12 common crops (beets, potato, sweet corn, cucumber, sweet pepper, hot pepper, tomato, melon, winter squash, lettuce, kale and bitter greens), and then evaluate submissions from breeders and seed companies throughout the season. Varieties are selected for the trial based on purported high quality in organic systems, good flavor, and lack of previous trialing in the Midwest.

The Collaborative evaluated over 70 varieties of tomatoes in its first three years. Some favorites came from Keith Mueller, an independent breeder in Missouri. Keith specializes in intensely flavored fruits in every color from bright yellow to the dark purple of his anthocyanin lines. He often incorporates a rare "apricot blush" gene into his lines, which gives a yellow fruit a red-orange "blush" around the base as it ripens.

Organic Seed Alliance

Port Townsend, WA

The mission of Organic Seed Alliance (OSA) is to advance the ethical development and stewardship of the genetic resources of agricultural seed. OSA accomplishes this through research, education, and advocacy services that closely engage farmers and other agricultural community members. They work collaboratively with multiple universities around the country and many organic farmers throughout the Pacific Northwest to improve existing varieties and breed new ones.

The OSA breeding work is led by Laurie McKenzie and focuses on developing open-pollinated varieties. They are currently breeding and improving many crops including carrots, tomatoes, onions, beets, Swiss chard, arugula, cilantro, cabbage, kale and purple sprouting broccoli.

Frank Morton

Wild Garden Seed
Philomath, OR

Frank began farming and growing his own seed in 1980. He learned the essence of plant breeding by playing with his crops during 18 years as a salad grower for fine restaurants. During this period, his farm-bred greens were major components of the unique Wild Garden salad, and were widely appreciated by chefs in Portland, New York, Boston, and Philadelphia. He and his wife, Karen, founded Wild Garden Seed in 1994, and now sell their organic seed to catalog companies, farmers and gardeners all over the world. They farm in Philomath, Oregon where they produce main 200 varieties of seed for their catalog.

Frank has crossing and selection projects in a wide range of salad green crops, especially lettuce, where his work is focused on striking appearance, flavor, texture, disease resistance, and seasonal adaptation. Intense pigmentation is a common breeding goal, and one of his current projects is enhanced internal red-rose color in heading lettuces. He is also creating pak choi and mizuna type greens with bright rosy colored stems. He is selecting kales with three different pigment patterns (deep purple, blushed, bright green) and leaf shapes out of breeding population parentage that survived the winter of 2013-2014, the coldest in 40 years. These are based on crosses between the best-flavored Lacinato and the most intensely purple kales available.

Aside from leafy greens, Frank has ongoing work in Italian peppers for earlier, more flavorful fruit, some of it emphasizing smoother, longer, straighter types for roasting, while other lines emphasize the grotesque beauty of twisted and crumpled shapes for salad and presentation. Adapting quinoa to local NW conditions has been a 30-year endeavor. This work is continuing with breeding goals related to seed size, color and texture, and resistance to downy mildew disease and seedhead sprouting, major challenges for quinoa growers west of the Cascades. Frank continues to fine tune a red cutting celery and lanceleaf Macedonian parsley, which have both been seen and tasted at CBN Variety Showcase events.

John Hart

EarthWork Seeds
Oveido, FL

John Hart is a recent addition to EarthWork Seeds as a vegetable breeder establishing breeding programs in common bean, watermelon, brassicas, and tomato. Prior to his move to the private sector, John was a Postdoctoral Research Geneticist with Tim Porch in the Bean Program at the Tropical Agriculture Research Station of the USDA-ARS in Puerto Rico.

While in Puerto Rico, John worked with tepary beans, an orphan crop with immense potential to respond to current and future climate change scenarios in the tropics. John also spent 6 months as a Seed Matters Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University where he worked with Michael Mazourek on a range of vegetable breeding and genetics projects. John obtained his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding in 2014 from Cornell. John’s intent is to survey, develop, and deploy the genetic diversity of vegetables and specialty crops to enhance sustainable agriculture, rural development, economic viability, and human health in both regional and international contexts.

Alex Wenger

The Field’s Edge Research Farm
Lancaster, PA

Alex Wenger is a seed grower, farmer, and plant-breeder whose passion is sustainability through food, plants, and agriculture. Beginning in 2010 Alex began converting his family's land into a “research farm” with more than seven acres growing projects today. His many research activities are long-term, such as breeding disease-resistant apple varieties through crosses with wild apples from central Asia. Alex also researches and documents local ethnobotanical traditions, including the integration of wild foods into farming systems. He raises specialty grains and produce organically for chefs, and has been using selective breeding to adapt varieties such as the ‘Spin Rosso della Valsugana’ corn landrace to the Mid-Atlantic.

Recently Alex has been working with a food historian to stabilize and revive regional crop landraces. His overarching interested is to research, develop, and promote sustainable systems of food production. These interests led Alex to explore the potential of Apios americana as a sustainable food crop. In 2011, he began a collaboration with researchers Dr. William Blackmon and Dr. Steven Cannon to develop Apios as a future food.

Uprising Seeds

Brian Campbell, Crystine Goldberg and Eric Budzynski
Bellingham, WA

Brian and Crystine started Uprising Seeds in 2007 to help increase the availability of quality organic and open-pollinated varieties adapted to maritime northwest growing conditions. Their focus is on culinary qualities that are often neglected in larger industrial breeding programs. Prior to focusing exclusively on seeds, they ran a fresh market farm and one of the first Food Stamp CSAs. A sense of social justice in food issues continues to inspire their work.

Eric joined Uprising in May 2015, after four years at Wild Garden Seed. His work focuses on exploring diversity in flavor and culinary utility of crops and improving quality and quantity of open-pollinated varieties. He is equally interested in rediscovering older varieties as working on improving new material. This year he was most excited about introducing a variety of Romanian dill that is traditionally used in desserts in Transylvania.

Some of Uprising's exciting projects include:

LEGUMES: An ongoing project, Uprising continues to trial, both for taste and cool climate production, common bean and other legumes from around the world. They are currently multiplying the most promising varieties from an early-maturing soybean trial in 2015, seeking both edamame and dry soy cultivars adapted to PNW growing conditions. Two beans they offer were started with seed acquired by Lane during a trip to Italy for the 2014 Terra Madre. These include 'Sorana' and 'Cicerchia' .

PUNTERELLE: Uprising is adapting an Italian cultivar for both fall and winter heading at northern latitudes.

SQUASH: Several generations into selection from a crossed population of commercial hybrid Kabocha varieties, they seek to release an improved open pollinated Kabocha variety in coming years. Uprising recently added a beautiful squash to their offerings called 'Zucca Mantovana' which came from seed acquired by Lane.

PEPPERS: 2015 & 2016 trials have yielded several lesser-known pepper cultivars (both hot and sweet) with special culinary qualities that show promise for production in our region. One of these includes 'Elephant's Ear' which has been a winner in Culinary Breeding Network field trials and tastings.

FLOWERS: A focal project of 2016 has been to increase the availability of quality organic cut-flower seed to address the gap between the growth of the local and organic flower movement and the commercial seed supply, still dominated by non-organic international, consolidated production.

Adaptive Seeds

Andrew Still and Sarah Kleeger
Sweet Home, OR

Adaptive Seeds produces and sells PNW grown, open-pollinated and organic garden seed. Adaptive grew out of The Seed Ambassadors Project, an initiative started in 2005, when Andrew and Sarah began traveling to collect and share seeds and seed saving skills. Through their work with Seed Ambassadors, they have traveled to 12 countries and have collected over 800 varieties of seed. Many of these varieties form the Adaptive Seeds catalog foundation.

Adaptive stewards rare and diverse varieties for ecologically-minded farmers and gardeners. They offer northern adapted, exclusively open-pollinated varieties, and many diverse gene pool mixes (landraces) that include a diversity of flavors (and sometimes colors) within a single cultivar. Adaptive doesn’t buy and re-sell mass produced commodity or corporate seed. What they don’t grow themselves is grown by a handful of small regional growers who they transparently celebrate in their catalog.

Adaptive Seeds breeding goals include selecting crops that grow well under low input organic conditions and for cool weather tolerant early maturity. Finding opportunities to introduce unique varieties with great flavor to small scale organic farming is an important goal, as is trying to find the sweet spot between what grows well here and what is marketable for farmers. Another goal is to select Pacific Northwest heritage crops to regain their former glory, as many have been neglected over the years.

Their ‘Gulag Stars’ kale is a breeding project started by independent plant breeder Tim Peters seeking to find interesting new kale shapes, colors and flavors with added winter hardiness. Adaptive Seeds is selecting out some of the most unusual traits and continuing with Tim's original project. Through the Culinary Breeding Network, chef Timothy Wastell is collaborating on this project, choosing traits from a culinary perspective.

Ayers Creek Farm

Anthony and Carol Boutard
Gaston, OR

Ayers Creek Farm sells directly to the public and restaurants. Their breeding program has focused on growing better grains, legumes and vegetables for their customers given their location in a maritime-influenced climate at the 45th parallel. They reselect annually using a design brief (a list of specific criteria) for each variety.

For example, they want a long harvest window for their sauce tomatoes, selecting large, pear-shaped, dry, green-shouldered fruits with high acidity and good fragrance. For their 'Borlotto Gaston' pole beans, they are working towards a tight and early harvest window. The pods must be short, loose and with just 4-5 beans in each. They found these have the best flavor and texture. Their 'Arch Cape' chicory is a late Treviso-type producing a loose head in February. It develops the classic cobra head shape and well defined white ribs in the field with no forcing or blanching. They also maintain three corn varieties: 'Amish Butter' popping, 'Peace, No War' purple flour and 'Roy's Calais' flint.

Full Table Farm

Mindy Blodgett and Juston Enos
Napa, CA

In 2010, less than a year after moving to an abandoned home in Napa Valley, Mindy and Juston started Full Table Farm after an over ambitious garden caused them to turn to local restaurants to absorb the surplus. The goal was to have a small presence at the farmers market, try not to embarrass themselves, and become part of the community. They were overwhelmed by praise from market attendees and many highly lauded chefs. This year, now with 1½ acre in production, the farm has an exclusive agreement to produce for one restaurant, Bar Tartine.

Early on out of curiosity, sentimentalism and slight hoarder tendencies they began saving seeds, quickly recognizing that selective breeding offered huge benefits for quality & from an economic perspective. They now select and carry forward seeds for much of what they grow, looking for qualities that satisfy the chefs at Bar Tartine and themselves. The first focus is always on flavor. From there they prioritize disease & pest resistance, growth habits, yield, and drought tolerance as they use a little water as possible.

Experimental Farm Network

Nate Kleinman and Dusty Hinz
Philadelphia, PA

The Experimental Farm Network (EFN) was founded in 2013 to facilitate widespread collaboration on plant breeding and other agricultural research, with a focus on using agriculture to fight climate change. EFN connects plant breeders and researchers with volunteer growers across the US and increasingly around the world. During the 2016 season over 200 volunteers participated in EFN projects, including a perennial kale project, a perennial sorghum project, a chinquapin chestnut project, a global trial of Carol Deppe's 'Hannan Popbean' popping chickpea, & seed increases of hundreds of rare plant varieties.

Based in Philadelphia, with a flagship research farm in rural Elmer, New Jersey, EFN is a non-profit cooperative run by Nate Kleinman and Dusty Hinz. Nate and Dusty are farmer-activists who met working on urban gardening projects with Occupy Vacant Lots in 2012. The EFN Board includes legendary seed saver Dr. William Woys Weaver, Kirtrina Baxter of Soil Generation, and Sally McCabe of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society.