Seeds Only a Plant Breeder Could Love, Until Now

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Seeds Only a Plant Breeder Could Love, Until Now

Your browser does not support the video element. Row 7 Seed Company aims to connect plant breeders with restaurant chefs as they develop new varieties of vegetables, in some cases sending chefs a range of trials to taste test, as with this squash. When his children were small, Irwin Goldman wanted to give them a beet to snack on — a beet so pretty and swirled with colors, so juicy and delicious, that they’d crunch on it raw. So Mr. Goldman, a professor of horticulture at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, grew the beet himself. He used traditional breeding methods, cross-pollinating flowers, selecting for sweetness, mild earthiness and mellowness. It took him almost 15 years to develop the Badger Flame, a stunning oblong beet with swirls of deep orange. That’s when he hit a wall. “I might have a novelty I’m really excited about, but unless a seed company wants to market it, it doesn’t go anywhere,” Mr. Goldman said. “It’s a huge gap in the business.” Row 7 Seed Company, a new business co-founded by Dan Barber, the executive chef at Blue Hill in Manhattan, aims to fill that gap by developing, promoting and selling seeds for new vegetable and grain varieties that might otherwise never find an audience. Plenty of companies, small and large, work with university plant breeders to distribute new seed varieties. But Row 7 aims to give breeders the chance to reach a large market with their most esoteric and groundbreaking work — by connecting them with chefs. The company will sell seven varieties of seeds to start, both in small packets for home gardeners and in bulk for farmers. As they develop new varieties, plant breeders will kick around ideas with chefs across the country, using feedback from the kitchen to guide their research. While Row 7 will consider the needs of regional growers, its founders say that flavor will always come first. “Part of the goal of the company is not only to increase the flavor of vegetables: It’s to look at how we, as chefs, can change the culture of eating,” said Mr. Barber, who started Row 7 with the seedsman Matthew Goldfarb and the plant breeder Michael Mazourek . Starting Wednesday, Row 7 will sell organic seeds, developed in the United States, on its website, row7seeds.com . At first, it will sell seeds for the Badger Flame; three varieties of squash (including one that announces its ripeness on the vine by changing from dark green to a rusty orange); a small, creamy potato; a pleasingly bitter cucumber; and a floral-tasting habanero pepper without even a pinprick of heat. Row 7’s founders are betting that as plant breeders and chefs conspire to grow what’s most delicious, they will grab the attention of home gardeners and small- to mid-scale farmers, who can order the seed in bulk. Their new varieties may then pop up at farmers’ markets and high-end grocery stores, and, if demand is high enough, in national supermarket chains and manufactured […]