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Expanding Organic Seed Availability: Farmer Breeder Collaboration

Expanding Organic Seed Availability: Farmer Breeder Collaboration

Field Notes: NOFA-NY’s Summer Blog Series

This blog post is the second in our summer blog series highlighting NOFA-NY’s on-farm field days. We’ve got more field days coming up this fall – learn more here!

Host Farm: Norwich Meadows Farm
Location: Norwich, NY
Date: August 21, 2019

Field Day Summary:

Expanding Organic Seed Availability: Farmer Breeder Collaboration was held on Wednesday, August 21 at Norwich Meadows Farm in Norwich, New York. The Field Day was hosted by Zaid Kurdieh of Norwich Meadows and Michael Mazourek, vegetable breeder at Row 7 Seeds and professor at Cornell University. Presenters also included Kristen Loria (Cornell Plant Breeding and Genetics Masters student), Greg Inzinna (Vegetable Co-Breeder at Row 7 Seeds), and Paul Loomis (Farmer Marketing Coordinator with NOFA-NY).

 

Michael started the Field Day with an introduction to seed varieties and explanation of open-pollinated (OP) versus hybrid seeds. OP seeds are standard varieties that breed true to type, producing plants that are nearly identical to the parent plant. Hybrid seeds are cross-bred to create plants with certain desired characteristics. Seed from a hybrid variety can be saved, but will not be true to type.

After Michael’s introduction, Kristen Loria presented research on carrot seed trials. Kristen and her team are currently trialing carrot cultivars that include commercially available organic seeds as well as some conventional seeds. They are researching rainbow carrots and variations in weed competitiveness, disease resistance, and edible factors including flavor. You can find the results of different NOVIC Project crop trials on the eOrganic website. Kristen led a tasting of carrots to demonstrate the differences among rainbow carrot varieties, as well as a tasting of orca beans (a cross between disease-resistant black beans and Anasazi beans).

Michael then led a presentation on labeling, with an introduction about Food Safety by Paul Loomis of NOFA-NY. Paul advocated for Food Safety Plans on every farm, regardless of size. Labeling your crops from seed to sale creates a trail of who harvested each product from what field at what time. This allows you to track your products for your own research as well as if there any customer complaints or questions. The labeling system used at Norwich Meadows makes it easy for everyone to work together efficiently, regardless of language barriers and learning styles. They use plastic horticulture labels to label and track their crops. There is a separate label for every row of every crop in every field. At the end of each row is a stake with a bunch of duplicate labels for that row. When the farmer harvests the crops in that row, they take a label off the stake and put it on the crate they are using for collection. A separate crate must be used for each row for accurate tracking. Each label has a tear-off end that has the field, crop, and row information on it. At the end of the day, they can tear off the label ends for each crop to have a record of what was harvested that day.

Next, participants toured Zaid’s high tunnels, where he grows many vegetable varieties for restaurants and CSAs. Zaid, Michael, and Greg shared pros and cons of using high tunnels. Especially in the Northeast where the growing season is short, it can be helpful to use high tunnels to extend your planting and harvesting seasons. The high tunnels provide shelter from the elements and allow you to have more control over growing conditions. However, high tunnels can also require a lot of maintenance, especially if they’re not structurally sound – tunnels can collapse in inclement weather.

Zaid suggested legumes and tomatoes as great options for high tunnel crops – they grow upward and utilize the space well. Weeding is another thing to take into consideration when growing in high tunnels – because you can’t use machinery, weed suppression options are limited. On Zaid’s farm, most of the weeding is done by hand or manually with a hoe.

At the end of the field day, Zaid and Michael encouraged participants to reflect on the importance of organic farming. Zaid also shared information about his partnerships with chefs and restaurants. Learn more about his restaurant partnerships on the Norwich Meadows website.

Related Resources:

About the Farm: Norwich Meadows is a 200+ acre Organic farm in Chenango County, New York, certified by NOFA-NY. Owned and operated by Zaid and Haifa Kurdieh, Norwich Meadows Farm has been supplying its customers with a diverse selection of delicious and nutritious vegetables for 20 years. Norwich Meadows Farm serves over 1,000 CSA members in Norwich and NYC, and sells direct to consumer and restaurants. They employ high tunnel production, a farming technique that helps extend the growing season by constructing temporary hoop-houses in the field. Visit their website for recipes, CSA sign-up, and more: www.norwichmeadowsfarm.com.

Thank you to Zaid Kurdieh for hosting this field day, and to all the presenters for sharing their expertise!

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