9 Seed Breeders You Should Know

These 9 seed breeders are part of the Culinary Breeding Network (CBN) which is made up of plant breeders, seed growers, fresh market farmers, chefs and produce buyers working together to develop new vegetable varieties with superior flavor, texture and culinary use.   The CBN supports the work of public and independent plant breeders using traditional plant breeding processes that breed for organic farming systems with high culinary quality.  Many of them are featured here and their work represented at the Variety Showcase event on September 29, 2014.

1. Irwin Goldman
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Professor and Chair, Department of Horticulture

Irwin Goldman 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.


2. Frank Morton
Wild Garden Seed
Owner, Seed Grower and Plant Breeder

Frank MortonFrank 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 at Gathering Together Farm.

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. Kales with three different pigment patterns (deep purple, blushed, bright green) and leaf shapes are being selected out of breeding population parentage that survived the winter of 2013-2014, 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, there are new projects in winter squash (delicate x acorn) focused on flavor, novel shape and storability, and ongoing work in Italian peppers for earlier, sun scald resistant fruit. Quinoa adapted to local NW conditions has been a 30- year endeavor. This work is still ongoing with a new white variety ‘Mint Vanilla’ recently released.


3. Ayers Creek Farm
Anthony and Carol Boutard

Ayers CreekLocated 40 miles west of Portland, Anthony and Carol sell 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. They are also working with the late Treviso-type chicories to produce a uniform head with the classic cobra head shape and well define white ribs. They are starting a soy program, exploring the diversity available from the northern prefecture of Hokkaido, Japan, located at a similar latitude to Gaston.


5. Jim Myers
Oregon State University
Professor of Plant Breeding and Genetics

Jim Myers OSUJim holds the Baggett-Frazier Endowed Chair of Vegetable Breeding and Genetics in the Department of Horticulture at Oregon State University. He works on a number of crops including dry and snap bean, edible- podded pea, broccoli, tomato, winter and summer squash, and sweet corn. Prior to employment at OSU, he worked as a dry bean breeder at the University of Idaho. His main interest has been to improve vegetable varieties for disease resistance and human nutrition while maintain quality and productivity in improved varieties. Jim is also breeding tomatoes, broccoli and summer squash for organic systems. His latest variety releases are the high anthocyanin tomatoes ‘Indigo Rose’, ‘Indigo Cherry Drops’, and ‘Indigo Pear Drops’. Jim’s current breeding projects include high anthocyanin tomatoes, mild habanero peppers and trombocino summer squash.




6. Michael Mazourek
Cornell University
Vegetable Breeder and Calvin Noyes Keeney Assistant Professor of Plant Breeding

Michael Mazourek CornellMichael’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 recently released ‘Habanada’ 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.


7. Organic Seed Alliance

Organic Seed Alliance The mission of Organic Seed Alliance 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 excellent farmers throughout the Pacific Northwest to improve existing varieties and breed new ones. The OSA breeding work is focused on developing open-pollinated varieties and we are currently in the process of releasing a new OP sweet corn and a deeply-savoyed spinach. OSA is also breeding and improving many other crops including carrots, tomatoes, onions, beets, Swiss chard, arugula, cilantro, cabbage, kale, and purple sprouting broccoli.


8. Adaptive Seeds
Sweet Home, OR

Adaptive SeedsBased in Sweet Home, OR, Adaptive Seeds produces & sells PNW grown, open-pollinated & organic garden seed. Adaptive grew out of The Seed Ambassadors Project, an initiative started by Andrew Still & Sarah Kleeger in 2005, when they began traveling to collect & share seeds & 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.

With the addition of Jo Erikson, Adaptive stewards rare & diverse varieties for ecologically-minded farmers & gardeners, and are thrilled to be Bringing Biodiversity Back to agriculture. 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 & re-sell mass produced commodity or corporate seed. What they don’t grow is grown by a handful of small regional growers who they transparently celebrate in their catalog.

Their 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 PNW heritage crops to regain their former glory, as many have been neglected over the years.


9. Uprising Seeds

Uprising SeedBrian and Crystine started Uprising Seeds in Bellingham, WA in 2007 to help increase the availability of quality organic and open pollinated varieties adapted to maritime northwest growing conditions. Uprising’s breeding program has focused on reinvigorating open-pollinated varieties in vegetable categories that have become dominated in the trade by proprietary hybrids such as beets, carrots, and brassica crops among others. Their focus is on culinary qualities that are often neglected in larger industrial breeding programs.

Prior to focusing exclusively on seeds, Brian and Crystine ran a fresh market farm and one of the first Food Stamp CSA’s. A sense of social justice around food issues continues to inspire their work.

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