Local food can be scarce in early spring in the Northwest, but thanks to support from two specialty crop block grants administered by the Washington State Department of Agriculture and Oregon Department of Agriculture, OSA is increasing the diversity of our spring palate.
In partnership with Oregon State University and Washington State University, we are breeding, trialing, and tasting chicories, purple sprouting broccoli, winter storage cabbage, and storage onions. Last week we harvested purple sprouting broccoli and chicories in Oregon, and held a taste test with local farmers and breeding partner Organically Grown Company (OGC). Chicories varied widely in sweetness, bitterness, and texture. The purple sprouting broccoli were evaluated for sweetness, spiciness, and tenderness, as well as the brilliant purple color exhibited by the buds and stems.
The goal of our purple sprouting broccoli project is to deliver a new open-pollinated variety that is flavorful, tender, cold hardy, and consistently produces 4 – 5 inch heads on highly productive shoots. Similarly, the goal of our Castelfranco-type chicory project (one of two chicory projects) is to deliver a variety that produces large, light-green heads with red speckles that are uniform, cold hardy, mild in flavor, and bolt resistant. Both varieties are being bred under organic farming conditions so that organic growers will have varieties adapted to their low-input systems.
Both crops are planted around mid-July in the Northwest in time for fall growth, overwintering, and spring harvest. The varieties will be available for additional field trials as well as seed sales in the next few years.
Following last week’s evaluation, we donated our purple sprouting broccoli trial harvest to the local school and hospital in Port Townsend, WA, sharing the bounty of flavor and good nutrition with our community. We also shared part of this harvest with a local farm store, Chimacum Corner Farmstand, who reported that the broccoli “flew off the shelf.” Of course, we weren’t surprised — it’s beautiful and delicious!