Unusual vegetables and fruits get me every time. Rainbow carrots? Watermelon radishes? Party cauliflower? Romanesco?Bright colors, quirky shapes and even creative names can stop me in my tracks at any farmers market. If I can't identify it, I feel compelled to buy some to take home and share.
The small-scale farmers who are likely to be selling these tempting curiosities are counting on customers like me (and maybe you too?). They often cannot compete on low prices alone, but small-scale farmers can succeed by differentiating their products from more widely available commodities through taste, appearance, harvest time or other qualities. Planting a new specialty crop can help a small-scale framers carve out a profitable niche in the marketplace.
For that reason, identifying and field-testing specialty crops is a focus of the UC Small Farm Program — and of a new project officially launched this week.
The UC Small Farm Program is a partner in the "Great Veggie Adventure," an effort launched by the makers of Hidden Valley Salad Dressings to identify a vegetable that few people have heard of, but that children might just love. The Small Farm Program is helping identify vegetable candidates that meet criteria highlighted by a survey of elementary school students' vegetable preferences.
Our farm advisors will be growing varieties of rainbow carrots, watermelon radish, party cauliflower and Romanesco in demonstration plots around the state. Though small farm advisors frequently test and demonstrate interesting new crops, this time they will be bringing kids behind the scenes, with blog posts and video updates from their fields.
Will these "new" vegetables snag the curious tastebuds of kids? We'll have to wait and see.
But I know some vegetables that I'll be keeping an eye out for at my farmers market...
Did you know?
- Aziz Baameur, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor (also with the Small Farm Program) and Maria Giovanni, nutrition advisor, conducted field tests and tasting panels with a rainbow's array of carrots. Read more about it in UC Delivers.
- The Great Veggie Adventure is part of the "Love Your Veggies" program, now in its fifth consecutive year. Hidden Valley created the Love Your Veggies program in 2007 after a study by UC Cooperative Extension Butte County and the Expanded Food and Nutrition Education Program. Read about their study in this ANR News Blog post.
Video: Manuel Jimenez, UC Cooperative Extension farm advisor in Tulare County, introduces his work with the UC Small Farm Program — and the program's involvement in the "Great Veggies Adventure"