The long search for May-harvested broccoli

A century ago, growers were also eager for broccoli varieties that could be harvested later into spring and early summer.

Some of the finest strains of late broccoli, however, are not in commerce, being in the hands of market-men, who have been selecting and re-selecting the stock for the last two or three generations, and from whom it is impossible to beg or buy even a single seed. In course of time, however, these will doubtless pass into the seeds men’s hands, when several late strains, later than anything at present in commerce, will be added to our list of useful varieties.
F. W. Hammond. Pilgrim’s Hatch, Essex.
In The Garden, February 1917.

This article is about white broccoli, which was raised in England in the late 19th and early 20th century. It looked virtually identical to cauliflower but was cold hardy and raised for cold-season harvest. It was typically planted in the spring and harvested in either late fall or early the following spring. Biennial types headed and were harvested in the spring, but had little heat tolerance. Growers eagerly wanted late varieties that could be harvested in May and still look good.

Gómez in London to talk about expanding locally grown

The Perishable Pundit highlights Miguel Gómez’ upcoming presentation at the London Produce Show. PP Jim Prevor summarizes it as The Renaissance Of The Wholesale Sector — Why Those Who Support ‘Locally Grown’ Should Support Investment In Market Intermediaries.

The wholesale produce trade that is present at the New York and London Produce Shows is keenly interested in the economic results coming out of the Eastern Broccoli Project. Prevor writes “[Gómez] has been a superstar in New York, informing, educating and beguiling industry members.”

Miguel will explore the dilemma faced by farmers who are serving their local consumers through farmers markets and CSAs.

The goal is to connect local food systems to the mainstream distribution system. Markets where consumers buy directly from farmers are very limited in terms of volume, availability, and in terms of sustained economic viability for the farmer, who lives only out of these markets.
Margins are very thin, and the markets are easily inundated with excess supply. So the markets are restricted on the amount of farmers that can participate in going direct to consumers.

The concept does not fit the normal narrative for either the farmers market community nor the supermarket community. Therefore, bringing change that benefits consumers, small farmers, and supermarkets will take transdisciplinary assistance of the kind we have been developing in the Eastern Broccoli Project.

New GAPs Resources on Eastern Broccoli website


Becoming GAP-certified is essential for commercial growers, but the process can seem daunting – where do you start?!

The GAPs Resources page of the Eastern Broccoli website now features an introduction to Good Agricultural Practices for broccoli growers, including reasons to get certified, an overview of the certification process, and a look at broccoli production with GAPs.  Please check out the information if you are growing or thinking about growing broccoli but aren’t yet GAP-certified.

Value of local broccoli published

FoodPol titleWe have a new publication, “Localization effects for a fresh vegetable product supply chain: Broccoli in the eastern United States”. This article models how increasing the Eastern broccoli supply will reduce the overall cost of producing broccoli for the US market, and reduces the carbon footprint as well. The predicted flows of product among different Eastern markets is surprisingly complex.

This research was part of the doctoral project of Shadi Attalah, who was a graduate student with Miguel Gómez at the Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at Cornell. Shadi is now an assistant professor at Purdue University.
This link will provide you with free access to the article through October 9, 2014. After that the cost to access the article is substantial. If the large-scale economic effects of locally grown produce is of interest to you, please take a look.

Shady S. Atallah, S., M.I. Gómez and T. Björkman. 2014. Localization effects for a fresh vegetable product supply chain: Broccoli in the eastern United States. Food Policy 49:151–159. DOI: 10.1016/j.foodpol.2014.07.005

Winter broccoli trials in progress in Florida

Dr. Monica Ozores-Hampton and Dr. Lincoln Zotarelli supervise broccoli plantings at new trial locations in Immokalee and Hastings, Florida.   These large-scale trials feature an industry standard broccoli variety and two newer commercial hybrids that have displayed superior quality under stressful growing conditions in advanced screening trials.   Broccoli varieties will be evaluated based on production-relevant criteria such as yield, number of cuts to harvest, and field holding time.  The Hastings trial was direct-seeded in December 2013, while broccoli in the Immokalee trial was transplanted in mid-January 2014.  Harvest and evaluation are expected in late winter/early spring 2014.  With the addition of the Immokalee and Hastings sites, the Eastern Broccoli project now has trials running in at least one eastern location during every season of the year.

Hastings trial
Hastings, FL broccoli trial in progress in mid-January, 2014. Photo: Dana Fourman.

The Alpha Vegetable

The New York Times ran a long Magazine piece about doing an image makeover for broccoli. The goal was to have broccoli be a “cool” food among younger people who don’t care about broccoli at all. Author Michael Moss brought out some important points about the relationship people have with vegetables, as well as the challenges of growing more vegetables in the current economic environment. Our project was mentioned as important, but a drop in the bucket towards that goal.

Victors & Spoils’ campaign seeks to have broccoli pick up the cachet of kale as the “kale backlashbegins against this trendy vegetable.

What do Eastern consumers want?

Prof. Miguel Gómez, team member in the Dyson School of Applied economics is determining what qualities Eastern consumers look for in their broccoli, and what variation from the Western standard they accept. The results will inform the breeding process, and perhaps identify types that will be well accepted in the US East Coast that are not accepted in East Asia.

With graduate student Xiaoli Fan, he is running auctions of broccoli types to asses consumer’s relative willingness to pay for different appearances.

Consumers were presented with three types of broccoli for consideration. A: New type with large beads and lighter green; grown in New York. B: Perfect appearance by current standards, but has been shipped across country; grown in California. C: Conventional broccoli with mixed large and small flower buds, a defect common in the East; grown in New York.
Consumers at each station have small parboiled samples of each broccoli. Many find that the local broccoli has a milder and fresher flavor.
Xiaoli Fan (right), a doctoral student on the project, leads the experiment. Graduate assistant Adeline Yeh presents head of the three types to consumers for inspection as they prepare to bid.
Consumers on the panel are members of the community. Students were excluded, since they were not considered representative broccoli purchasers.

Commercial breeder visits

The commercial breeders on the project are inspecting trials this late summer, while the differences in quality are most apparent. Brassica breeder Cees Sintinie of Bejo (right front) stopped in Geneva as part of his North American tour. He was accompanied by his colleague Jan van der Heide (rear) when he visited with Phillip Griffiths (left). Characteristic of this summer, the rain was pouring. But rain does not slow this group.

Webinar on U.S. Food Distribution System

One goal of this project is to increase the availability of eastern-grown broccoli in eastern markets. But how does that broccoli get from the site of production to the point of purchase by consumers?

In a webinar available for viewing on the project website, economist Miguel Gómez discusses the history and evolution of the U.S. food distribution system, the organization and behavior of its three main channels, and the role of intermediaries in bringing food products from the farm to the American table.

Case studies explain how one retail chain has impacted the structure of the distribution system; why changes in product supply are not always reflected in retail prices; why sales of private label products are growing; and how Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs have increased opportunities for growers to market directly to consumers.

The presentation includes an exploration of trends in food expenditures and concludes with projections from industry executives on expected changes in retail food distribution.

To stream the webinar or view a pdf of the slides, visit the project reports page of the website and click on the appropriate link.

Making seeds for Regional Trials

The regional trials require a lot of seeds of the new varieties. These are made by hand pollinating one flower at a time. This week, Griff’s group is finishing some hybrid seed for use in 2014.

Parental plants in greenhouse. Each parent line only has three or four plants, so all the hybrid seed must come from them.
Jeff McNamara prepares a flower for pollination by separating the sepals to expose the stigma. The flowers must be pollinated at this stage so they are not fertilized by their own pollen, which matures once the flower opens on its own.
The flower is pollinated by rubbing the pollen-laden anthers of the pollen parent on the stigma of the seed parent.
After a flower is pollinated, it is tagged with the names of the parent plants. The fruit are allowed to grow and seed develop inside. With fecund plants, as many as 10 seeds can come from one flower.
When the fruit have matured, they are collected and taken to the seed processing room along with their tag. There, the seeds are removed and placed in labelled envelopes.
Some crosses result in few seeds. These fruits only have one seed each.
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