Bright Ideas Julie Dawson

Julie Dawson helps administer the Seed to Kitchen project, a collaboration between plant breeders, farmers and chefs to improve the flavor of vegetables like carrots, kale, peppers and squash in an economically viable way.

For the fourth year, Cap Times reporters have asked several Madisonians to share "bright ideas" they have for the coming year. We will publish the 2017 edition of Bright Ideas throughout the next week.

In 2017, I want to connect the Seed to Kitchen initiative in Madison to vegetable breeders in the Pacific Northwest and Northeast and get more chefs tasting new varieties of vegetables.

Seed to Kitchen began in 2013 as a partnership of plant breeders and chefs aiming to develop new vegetable varieties based on flavor. Gardeners often go back to heirlooms and older varieties, but these are not always the easiest for farmers to grow.

We wanted to develop varieties in the spirit of heirlooms — where flavor is the central focus — which also have the production, disease resistance and ease of growth that farmers need to stay economically viable.

Madison is a good area to do that because we have a really strong local food movement. We have chefs that care not only about the quality of the food they're putting on the table, but the survival of the farms that they depend on. They want good flavor, but it has to work for the farmer first.

There are a lot of points where we could make more progress working together across regions without losing the regional focus that makes the project strong.

We have farmers from Superior to the border of Illinois, one in Minnesota and one in Michigan. There’s a good chance we could benefit from vegetable breeding efforts elsewhere. We’re also trying to develop relationships with chefs in other cities, to get chefs outside of Madison tasting some of these vegetables.

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