University of California small farm advisors are embarking on a search for potentially profitable vegetable varieties not commonly found in grocery stores — and this time they are sharing the adventure with elementary school students.
The “Great Veggie Adventure” is 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 campaign tapped insights gleaned from a poll of more than a thousand elementary school students in order to identify possible candidates for the next beloved vegetable. As a partnering organization, the UC Small Farm Program is helping identify vegetable candidates that meet the survey’s criteria.
“We’re looking for vegetables that are not on everyone’s radar yet,” explained Mark Gaskell, farm advisor. “In some cases, a new crop is one that’s been grown by another culture for hundreds of years and is just ‘new’ to us.”
The program’s five farm advisors will be testing varieties of rainbow carrots, watermelon radishes, party cauliflower and Romanesco broccoli in demonstration plots in Santa Clara, San Luis Obispo, Fresno, Tulare and San Diego counties.
To share the experience with elementary school students throughout the United States, the farm advisors will be sharing blog posts and videos from their field test plots, with information about the growing process, agriculture and small farms.
“This is another opportunity to highlight specialty crops that could be profitable for small-scale growers, with the tastes and interests of kids in mind,” said Shermain Hardesty, program director and Cooperative Extension economist at UC Davis.
Five schools, which each received a $20,000 “Love Your Veggies” grant from Hidden Valley, will also be planting and growing the vegetables. The schools will also share their gardening and tasting experience via blog posts, time-lapse photography in the garden, taste-testing activities and promotion of the program within their networks and local communities.
Now in its fifth consecutive year, the Love Your Veggies program is also providing $100,000 in funding to support the UC Small Farm Program as it identifies and grows these vegetable varieties.
Hidden Valley created the Love Your Veggies program in 2007 after a study conducted by UC Cooperative Extension researchers found that children in the study consumed more vegetables when paired with a moderate amount of ranch dressing.
In order to assist California’s small-scale farmers, the UC Small Farm Program helps identify potentially profitable niches, including specialty fruits and vegetables. Small-scale farmers often cannot compete on low prices alone, but instead can succeed by differentiating their products from more widely available commodities through taste, appearance, harvest time or marketing outlet.
During its 30-year history, the program has tested an assortment of specialty crops including varieties of blueberry, miniature melon, annual artichoke, daikon, edamame, caper, pitahaya, lychee, longan, coffee, tea, jujube, lemongrass, tomato, sweet and chili pepper, guava, papaya, squash, gailan, sinqua and moqua.