The Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC) team recently joined tropical plant breeders at the University of Hawaii to teach a two-day workshop on organic plant breeding for Hawaiian organic farmers. The event was co-hosted by the University of Hawaii’s Go-farm Hawaii program – an applied apprentice program that trains beginning farmers. Go-farm Hawaii trainer Jay Bost led the workshop, which included both a classroom and field component with trials of several NOVIC and Hawaiian tropical crops.
The NOVIC team laid the foundation of basic strategies for breeding self- and cross-pollinated crops, and selecting and testing for adaptation to organic systems. NOVIC breeders demonstrated techniques for NOVIC crops, including peas, peppers, sweet corn, and brassicas, as well as carrots from the Carrot Improvement for Organic Agriculture (CIOA) project. Participants also got a chance to see a diversity of lettuces with University of Hawaii Extension agent Glen Treves. The lettuce populations included many different types of lettuce bred from Hawaiian ‘Manoa’ and several Wild Garden Seed varieties.
The NOVIC team had a chance to be students as well, and learned about the reproduction and breeding of several tropical food crops. University of Hawaii researchers James Keach and Roshan Paudel led a tour of their taro biodiversity trials and Dr. Richard Manshart explained the unique breeding system of papaya. Independent breeder Gabe Schuster-Smith wowed participants with the showy reproductive flowers of banana, and explained the diverse background of banana germplasm and breeding strategies. A highlight of the event was a visit from the now retired Dr. James L. Brewbaker – widely known as the grandfather of tropical corn breeding. The modern wave of organic breeding was before Dr. Brewbaker’s time, but he shared his insights into the potential to breed for a particular farming system and for nutrient use efficiency that he felt would be key in achieving an organically adapted crop. NOVIC sweet corn breeder Dr. Bill Tracy of the University of Wisconsin-Madison discussed the broad diversity and potential for adaptation exhibited by sweet corn and shared his respect for Dr. Brewbaker’s accomplishments.
The workshop culminated in celebration of the rich diversity of people and crops at the first ever Culinary Breeding Network (CBN) Hawaiian Variety Showcase. The showcase, led by CBN director, Lane Selman along with Bost, brought over 100 participants together for the tasting and celebration. Featured crops included CIOA carrots prepared by Stacy Givens of Side Yard Farm in Portland, Oregon. Featured crops from NOVIC breeders included Jim Myers’ snap peas, trombocino squash, and mild habanaro peppers. Tropical crops featured in the showcase included jicama, cacao, banana, taro, cassava, turmeric, and moringa.
The two events marked nine years since the Hawaii Public Seed Initiative, led by the Kohala Center, brought seed stewards and research and extension leaders in Hawaii to envision a strong community of seed growers, researchers, and advocates collaborating throughout the islands. The Hawaii seed movement continues to grow with the recent launching of the Hawaii Seed Network and programs like Go-farm Hawaii. That growth brought renewed excitement for education on how to breed on-farm. The enthusiasm of participants at both the on-farm breeding workshop and the variety showcase made it clear that a strong movement of seed stewards and seed advocates is alive in Hawaii.
Enjoy the slideshow and check out this gallery of photos by Shawn Linehan.