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Toward Windy City Tomatoes

Even if you started gardening only this year, you’ve probably already discovered that urban gardeners and farmers face a number of unique challenges, from uncertain water supplies to soil of widely varying quality. These challenges could be addressed through plant selection and breeding, but no existing programs focus on urban production.  Most trials of vegetable varieties are conducted in rural environments, and a few corporate conglomerates increasingly dominate their development.

unnamed-3(Photo by Kate Kasserman)

As part of his doctoral program, John Taylor is working with community partners, including the Peterson Garden Project, to develop a plant selection and breeding program that specifically addresses urban growers’ needs.  The goal of the program is to identify existing varieties that are highly productive in urban environments and eventually to breed new varieties — the Windy City tomato? — that are even more productive, flavorful, and disease-resistant.

The program is kicking off this year with the most popular vegetable/fruit in the United States: the tomato.  A total of 21 gardens and farms in the city and suburbs, including the Global Garden and Hello! Howard, are hosting trials of five hybrid and five open-pollinated varieties.  At each site, volunteers are acting as co-researchers, caring for the plants and collecting data on their performance.  All production from the Grow2Give beds will be donated to local food pantries.

unnamed-4(Photo by Kate Kasserman)

Follow John’s progress by visiting the beds at the Global Garden and Hello! Howard or visit www.facebook.com/ChicagoTomato.  If you’d like to become a co-researcher for the project, sign up through the PGP volunteer page.