Seeds Only a Plant Breeder Could Love, Until Now

A seed company co-founded by the chef Dan Barber aims to build a big audience for new vegetables (sweeter peppers, milder beets) using the marketing muscle of chefs.

Comments: 36

  1. What a beautiful story. Connect this with people working on sustainable farming, humane meat production, green energy, etc., and we have a better world. These stories are why I still have hope for the future.

  2. The thought of a habanero with no heat scares me. As does a beet with only mild earthiness. The characteristics that have been bred out are the ones that I and many other enjoy most about those vegetables and fruits. This does not sound like improvement, but regression to the mean of boring taste.

  3. I never understood the taste like dirt reference. For me a beet has a nice sweet flavor. I grew up on the canned ones but recently learned to love fresh beets, especially roasted. One of my favorite vegetables.

  4. That's why heirloom varieties exist. A chacun son gout!

  5. Nothing about Dan Barber is boring taste.

  6. Suzanne if you ate a Badger Flame beet, you'd probably change your mind. The flavor is like no other beet and can be eaten raw--opening up a whole new world of possibilities for chefs and home cooks alike. Hopefully you'll have the opportunity very soon! As a farmer, I applaud Dan, Michael, and Matthew on this new venture. This is such a perfect blend of old and new-- preserving traditional plant breeding methods with a focus on flavor (not on which varities best fit into large-scale agriculture production methods), while staying ahead of the curve in an era of changing climate, new pests, and new diseases. And thank you for working with Open Pollinated varieties!

  7. Beautiful. But let us combine flavor with heirloom nutrition and with replacing mineral nutrients. If I remember right 1905 tomatoes and another fruit now require 25 or 26 eaten to get the essential minerals of one 1905 according to the government’s own data. Otherwise a wonderful article. Now if we can just get half as many vegetables and one quarter as many grains as I got in Moscow Russia’s markets in 2001-2002 on our DARPA grant as I bought to feed our 15 plus Russian and Ukrainian Linux programmers. Some of pumpkins and such could grow as big as our Alaskan thanks to the Midnight Sun. And their mineral nutrients are often much superior to ours. (Yes. We do work closely with Russian and Ukrainian and Chinese military and private developers and coders and designers and space engineers and police and others. We just do not discuss that publicly.)

  8. The answer is to use a wide variety of components in your compost to create a mineral rich soil. I add blue green algae to the soil to add to the mineral content. If the soil is full of minerals your vegetables will be bigger and richer in flavor. We take from the soil but dont put back enough in the way of compost. Ive grown and seen giant vegetables from gardens and vegetables that taste amazing.

  9. Thanks for the tip. I try to add all my kitchen vegetable scraps to my compost but the blue green algae addition sounds interesting.

  10. Thank you for sharing the blue green algae as a mineral source.

  11. Great. Now I'm hungry! I am so spoiled for choices in the Bay Area, but I say "keep at it". Make new varieties to not only taste great, and be nutritious, but also grow with fewer pesticides or less water or clay soil or .... Lots of issues around the globe that interfere with raising crops. Lots of problems to solve.

  12. “Why would I want to change something in nature?” she said. “Nature is perfect.” Apparently there are grown up persons who think that the foods we eat are sprung whole from "nature" rather than the end result of blood, sweat and tears in cultivating, breeding and selecting varieties once found in nature. Stunning.

  13. None of our common vegetables and most fruits are not found in nature. All have been selected over the centuries by farmers. The wild eggplant is tiny as are the wildprecursers to tomatoes. What we think is the precursor to corn is tiny. Very few things on the table grow in the wild.

  14. Fascinating; the wave of the future in gormet cooking from garden to table. Great News! Carry on, con gusto!

  15. No one needs professional "chefs" (isn't the work "cooks"?) to appreciate good vegetables. Real people cook in their own kitchens.

  16. Love it! A whole underground movement is bubbling up.... Culinary Breeding Network rocking it out on West Coast and coming to NYC this fall.... Organic Seed Alliance network hub....

  17. These plants are genetically modified organisms (GMOs), modified the old fashioned way by breeding. Virtually everything we eat has been genetically modified by breeding or now by science.

  18. Yes, but they certainly aren't genetically modified as current GMOs are with haphazard gene damage with unknown consequences. And, they certainly aren't purposely inserting a toxin into the plant that both the insects and humans will consume.

  19. @TF Actually, traditional crossing (male parent plant X female parent plant) is MUCH more random and "haphazard" than are the new breeding tools like CRISPR gene-editing, which allows pinpoint exact changes (even a single DNA base) in a gene. These new gene-editing techniques do not introduce DNA from an unrelated species (unless the breeder intentionally wanted to do that).

  20. @ DAK CA Yes, but the man was never satisfied with that, what he had available. "... God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions" (Ecclesiastes, 7:29). To live of pure nature, one should revert to being a hunter-gatherer.

  21. As a home farmer, you might want to look at Baker Creek Seed Company too. Their catalog is like the Whole Earth variety but for seeds, especially heirloom varieties.

  22. OK, they don't patent their products to keep them widely available, that's commendable. But with no protection at all some evil entity could swoop in and patent it. I hope all these products are protected by something akin to the Open Source licenses for software to keep Big Ag from co-opting them.

  23. My thoughts exactly. Just because you have patented something doesn't mean you can't give it away if you want, but it would keep control in your hands and prevent someone else from stealing it and excluding others. I understand and sympathize with the philosophy, but as a practical matter, this is not a wise decision at all.

  24. To get a patent, you have to show novelty.

  25. I am happy to see this new business. It makes whole lot sense. (1) Researchers can sell their ideas and products. The incomes can be used to support their works. They can finally honestly work hard and fund their own research without selling their souls to funding agencies. Equally important, their works can have direct impacts! (2) I really hope that this country can finally wake up from the stupidity of growing lawns. Instead of lawns, organic vegetable gardens make more sense. We can save water, stop using chemicals, excise more, eat healthier and fresher and don't hire undocumented for yard works. (3) Industrialized agriculture is harmful to environment and communities. We should go back to our roots and get closer to soil/dirt. Even though we cannot entirely live the life of Amish, their way of life is admirable. The modern diseases are direct results of our newly adopted way of life. (4) I always think that both Democrats and Republicans should be environmentalists. We can grow food locally by Americans and the outcomes are better to environment and communities. Environmentalism can make America great again and it can cut down immigration. Tell me you have a better solution to the American problems than mine!

  26. I am a seed breeder. Nothing in the article about landraces, which are the most important research tool to deal with climate change. Not only are landraces localized in their adaptation, but they are more adaptable in their genomes - a more "plastic" genome if you wish. This gives the plant a more rapid response to changing conditions. Moving away from "pure" varieties and embracing bias in your seed sampling is key to agricultural survival in the future.

  27. I grew the Honey Nut butternut last summer ( 2017 ) & I wasn't all that impressed. The neck, where most of the meat is, was short & the area around the bulbous base had very little meat. The taste was OK. I much prefer the hybrid powdery mildew resistance butternut bred by Johnnys of Maine, my favorite seed house. I've been gardening organically for over 26 years in my community garden & my soil is luscious. Still,I'll check out the offerings by this new seed house.

  28. I'm not sure what niche the owners are trying to fill. Yes it's great that the company is acting as a bridge between chefs and seed developers, but once they find a really good cultivar, you can be sure that the same variety will show up at Johnny's and other serious seed providers. Among serious gardeners, when something good arrives, word travels fast. And the hobby gardeners are becoming more sophisticated. In the last few years I've seen a lot of varieties showing up in stores that previously were known only to avid gardeners. The selection of vegetable seeds available declined over the years to a few bulletproof varieties that would grow anywhere and shipped well. Gardeners got to grow the same thing that industrial scale farmers grew, but the only shipping we needed was a container to carry the produce from the garden to the door. At one time there were thousands of varieties available, developed locally. I'd like to think we are getting back to that, but the real key is expanding the number of home gardeners.

  29. Would someone please breed tomatoes that taste good instead of look good? Would someone try to grow fruit that isn't hard and then rotten without ripening in between? The idea that a pear could actually taste juicy and sweet or that a tomato sliced on a sandwich would have some kind of flavor seems like a pie-in-the-sky wish. As long as these folks are cultivating seeds, is there any way at all that they could work on, if nothing else, the tomatoes. If you don't grow them in your own garden, and sometimes even if you do, they have no taste at all. Please help!

  30. There is someone who does and is my go to source: Ohio Heirloom Seeds. They are the only seed company I would trust.

  31. Either you grow them yourself, using good, rich soil. Or you go to another country. The best fruit and vegetables I've had were in France and the most delicious chicken, in Costa Rica. Growing up in the U.S., I thought chicken was bland and tasteless. Fruits and tomatoes, as well. I fell in love with pears in Southern France that were brought in straight from the orchard, still warm from the sun, each one in its own little compartment so they didn't crush each other. When I got home, I rushed down to the Greenmarket in Union Square to buy pears. They came in a pile, bruising each other and already sour from fermentation of the juices. I wept.

  32. For 50 years, Ramapo has been a favorite tasty treat, and before that it was its parent Rutgers that dominated home gardens and commercial farms. They're back! Check out Rediscovering the Jersey Tomato at

  33. The best source for heirloom non-GMO seeds is Ohio Heirloom Seeds. I'm surprized this 'trend' hasn't taken off much earlier. This company and their seeds are so reliable that I buy and have them shipped to me by international post.

  34. Bye-bye flavonoids and antioxidants--the colorful stuff; the healthful stuff.

  35. Soooo I'm always excited to hear about new companies doing good work... But they're doing what cooperatives like Johnny's have been doing for decades. Breeding new varieties with desirable traits using traditional plant breeding techniques. And there are multiple culinary breeding programs where breeders work directly with chefs and farmers that have been around for a least a handful of years, I know on the west coast there's a well established one. I'm excited to hear about this company, but bummed not to see any larger context about America's growing specialty and organic seed sector written for it. Many have paved the way.

  36. Psst... Johnny's Selected Seeds is a private company...employee owned (now), but isn't and never has been a cooperative!