Thursday, February 28, 2013

Are You A Chicago Gardener? Take This Survey

 Basil seed from 2012 for 2013

Our friend John Taylor, a PhD candidate at University of Illinois, has a provocative idea: survey Chicago-area gardeners to find out what vegetables grow well here. But that's just the start. Here's more from John:
Urban gardeners and farmers face many challenges, some of which can be addressed through plant breeding. Unfortunately, with the continuing consolidation of the seed industry, private and public breeding programs largely focus on the needs of large-scale growers and on agronomic crops like corn and soybeans.

I'd like to initiate a conversation with Chicago's gardeners and farmers about how to evaluate existing vegetable varieties and to potentially breed new varieties that are adapted to local environmental conditions, gardening and farming practices, and cultural preferences. With the assistance of my advisor, Sarah Taylor Lovell, I'm developing a proposal for a research project--funded by a USDA postdoctoral fellowship--that begins to develop a framework for that conversation.  I'm proposing the development of a participatory selection and breeding program for vegetable crops for sustainable production in greater Chicago.

Gardeners and farmers would be involved in all phases of the project, from developing program goals to evaluating varieties in their own gardens/farms to disseminating the results of the study, including seeds.  The program would focus on open-pollinated varieties that could be saved and distributed through gardener and farmer networks.  No genetic engineering would be involved.

Funding is for two years, so to get a head start on the process I'm surveying Chicago's gardeners and farmers about what they're growing--down to the variety level--and how they're growing it.  If you grew vegetables in 2012, live in the greater Chicago area, and are over 18, I would love to hear from you.  I'm hoping that, in addition to collecting important information, this survey demonstrates to the USDA that people are interested in and enthusiastic about developing more local control of this part of the food system.

Please fill out the survey today. Thank you.
The survey is a good way to review your seeds for the quickly-approaching 2013 growing season, offering a chance to ponder what grew well and what didn't. Also, you can stop in the middle of the survey and get a link to return to it another day. Check it out.

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