Diverse vegetation is key to the health and productivity of seed-producing fields. Photo courtesy of John Navazio, Plant Breeder. All rights reserved.

NATURE’S TURN: Seed and feed rich colors, flavors for the New Year

Beginning with an aspect of the backstory of seed development seems fitting as the old year turns to the new and all of us have already or will soon choose seeds for our gardens and farms.

December 19, 2016 – January 1, 2017

Mt. Washington — Luminaries in the field of ecological agriculture and interrelated disciplines gathered here in the Berkshires two weeks ago. Farmers, researchers, nutritionists, physicians, nature educators, supporting industries and the curious composed the spirited swarm attracted to the Bionutrient Food Association’s (BFA) 6th Annual Soil and Nutrition Conference (SNC) titled “Nature as Solution.” The stated purpose, to cultivate “synergy to put nutrition and flavor back on the table,” was realized through exhaustive workshop offerings. The choice of venue, Kripalu, accommodated more than 300 attendees in a fitting, naturally beautiful environment. Rare among conference destinations, Kripalu Kitchen’s philosophy and practice embody BFA’s goals.

Many varieties of beets presented for tasting at a Culinary Breeding Network Variety Showcase. Photo courtesy of Lane Selman. All rights reserved.
Many varieties of beets presented for tasting at a Culinary Breeding Network Variety Showcase. Photo courtesy of Lane Selman. All rights reserved.

I was lured to the conference upon hearing that two of biological farming’s legendary figures would be presenting. They are John Navazio, organic seed production specialist, now manager of the plant breeding program at Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine; and Joel Salatin, whose multigenerational Polyface Farms in Virginia is a model of sustainability, the result of observing and responding to natural processes and “Peopling the Farm.” When I perused the program brochure (available on the BFA’s website), I was elated by the array of compelling sessions and presenters.

Image courtesy of Lane Selman, Director, Culinary Breeding Network. All rights reserved.
The Flavor Wheel. Image courtesy of Lane Selman, Director, Culinary Breeding Network. All rights reserved.

For this first of what will likely be several articles inspired by the genius encountered at every turn at this Soil and Nutrition conference, I am delighted to bring to you a taste of the experiential session “Sensory Evaluations of Vegetables” conducted by agricultural researcher Lane Selman of Oregon State University and John Navazio. Beginning with an aspect of the backstory of seed development seems fitting as the old year turns to the new and all of us have already or will soon choose seeds for our gardens and farms.

The opportunity for “Sensory Evaluations of Vegetables” at blind tastings, as shown in the photographs, offer the seedsman, the grower and the consumer experiences of discovery and collaboration. Staging an event is an ambitious undertaking. A selection of vegetables is prepared for sampling in ways they are usually eaten: raw, roasted, marinated, pickled or cooked to optimum doneness. Evaluation sheets are prepared and distributed. See the Flavor Wheel, an example of characteristics that Lane “used as an example for developing a lexicon for winter squash.” In general, vegetables are evaluated by appearance, flavor, texture and sweetness. Typical flavor descriptions are sweet, savory, bitter, fruity, musky, tart, soapy, perfumy, smoky, pleasant and off flavors; additionally: pungency, spiciness, earthy, mustardy, tomatoey.

Sensory Evaluation of Vegetables workshop led by Lane Selman and John Navazio at the recent Soil and Nutrition Conference at Kripalu. John Navazio front right. Photo courtesy of Lane Selman. All rights reserved.
Sensory Evaluation of Vegetables workshop led by Lane Selman and John Navazio at the recent Soil and Nutrition Conference at Kripalu. John Navazio front right. Photo courtesy of Lane Selman. All rights reserved.

In a conversation, I pressed John to recommend a few outstanding vegetable seed varieties and guidelines for choosing the most nutritious among them. This is, roughly, what he said, “We always work on high carotenoid pigment, the orange in carrots and squash. The darker the orange the more beta-carotene, which is converted to vitamin A when eaten; carrots are more nutritious cooked than raw. ‘Bolero’ exceeds in taste tests, is nutritious and a reliable workhorse. Of the open-pollinated varieties, choose ‘Scarlet Nantes’.” When thinking beets and beauty, reach for golden ‘Touchstone’ and ‘Chioggio’, which also offers complexity of flavor.

Here are a few more tips harvested from my interview with seedsman Navazio. Lutein, widely known as the eyesight pigment and helpful in preventing macular degeneration, is evident in the deep golden pigment of winter squash and dark green leafy vegetables (golden color masked by chlorophyll.) Choose the dark spinaches and lacinato-type kale like ‘Tascono’.

The photograph of the vibrant seed-producing field will appear again in a future article describing John Navazio’s other workshop offered at the SNC, “Evolutionary Plant Breeding on the Farm.”

Opportunities to participate:

Bionutrient Food Association – https://www.bionutrient.org/about-us

January 6 – 8 John Bagnulo, a SNC presenter, at Kripalu – https://kripalu.org/presenters-programs/build-your-nutritional-foundation-health-and-vitality

Seed Internship Program – https://www.seedalliance.org/NOVIC/

Why purchase organic seed? https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kPnVkvCsHOA

Resources: 

The Organic Seed Grower: A Farmer’s Guide to Vegetable Seed Production – https://www.johnnyseeds.com/about-us/news/press-release-john-navazio-plant-breeder.html
John Navazio, Plant Breeder, Author

https://www.seedalliance.org/NOVIC/

Lane Selman, Oregon State University, Founder, Culinary Breeding Network-https://horticulture.oregonstate.edu/content/lane-selman

https://www.culinarybreedingnetwork.com/