“Stunning,” “beautiful,” “amazing” — not words you usually associate with a food as common as carrots.
These accolades were elicited by new, multi-colored roots being bred by OSA, grown at Sylvester Manor Educational Farm, and showcased during collaborative events last month in New York.
OSA is a partner in the Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) project, a multi-faceted, national program to breed vigorous, nutritious and delicious cultivars of the popular vegetable that thrive under organic growing conditions. OSA works with researchers at land grant universities on this project funded by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture’s Organic Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).
Key to the project is farmer engagement from across the country to trial diverse lines of carrots. Seeing agricultural research take root at Sylvester Manor was especially meaningful to OSA’s Cara Loriz, who came to OSA after serving as executive director of Sylvester Manor — a historic plantation, market farm, and arts and education center. Food has been grown at Sylvester Manor for millennia, often with an emphasis on innovation and research. Counted among the Manor’s stewards are Enlightenment-era agriculturalists who kept meticulous records and a Harvard University food scientist.
Sylvester Manor Farm Manager Jocelyn Craig planted trials of seven lines of OSA’s colored carrots and several magenta chards—including OSA varieties in development—last spring to see how they would perform at Sylvester Manor. Jocelyn’s observations and evaluation data will be included with those of other farmers and researchers in project trial reporting to the USDA. Adding science and research to the farm program was rewarding for Jocelyn, and enriched the experiences of the Manor’s farm apprentices, who also took part in an introductory seed saving and plant breeding workshop taught by OSA’s Northwest Research Associate Laurie McKenzie on Sept 22. By equipping farmers to improve varieties and save seed, workshops like this one, which was funded by Patagonia, pave the way for a sustainable future of food.
Cara displayed the carrots for Sylvester Manor’s CSA, and again after the workshop, when participants cut into fresh roots to see the color pattern inside. But the big show followed the events at the Manor. Carrots with alternating raspberry and yellow flesh, as well as variegated purple carrots and deep-orange to red carrots with magnificent tops, were shipped to chefs in New York City to prepare for two sessions of the Culinary Breeding Network Variety Showcase at Project Farmhouse in Manhattan on Sept 24.
Chef Peter Hoffman lightly marinated thinly sliced carrots, serving them with an “umbellifable” pesto. Carrots and related plants (called umbellifers) send up a flower umbel when they bolt. The pesto was made of parsley, fennel, and other savory greens in the carrot family. Chef and flavor scientist Arielle Johnson of the MIT Food Media Lab “nixtamalized” the carrots — soaking them in an alkaline solution made from lime or ash — and served them with an Apiaceae pesto, also made from the greens of umbel bearing plants. The chefs brought out the unique flavors of the carrots, with an intent to highlight the breeding work behind them, and presented them beautifully and to rave reviews.
Here’s hoping that this is the first of many collaborations between Sylvester Manor and OSA.