For a city girl like me, standing in fields of fresh tomatoes and being able to pick vegetables off the vine for a truly field to table lesson was a bucket list experience I didn’t know I wanted to have. It was the perfect ending to a full year of learning when I was invited to visit to the Vegetable Field Day in December. I started this process during BlogHer14 when I attended a luncheon with Monsanto and left with more than a few questions. I was happy to share this day with a group of bloggers that included Tara from Tara Met Blog and Amethyst Moon from Life Music Laughter.
It really was an experience to go directly into the fields and taste fresh peppers, tomatoes, watermelon and zucchini. I even picked my own zucchini to make zucchini bread the next day. I also made a homemade tomato sauce that really captured all the freshness of tomatoes picked fresh from the vine. Getting all my produce back through security in a carry-on luggage was quite the adventure. Being in the fields for this day of exploration really made me think about how and what I eat. The breeders explained to us that most of the vegetables (other than corn and soy) that we see are not the result of genetically modified organisms (GMO) crops. I learned that Monsanto does produce GMO crops but only for squash, corn and soybean and most others are the result of traditional breeding. My experience in the field and talking with their breeders gives me a much better understanding of what a GMO actually is and what traditional breeding is.
Oftentimes people comment that a bigger vegetable is the result of genetic engineering but actually they’re the result of hybrid engineering. Hybrid engineering is a lot like the Mendel boxes I completed in biology junior year of high school. The vegetables we’re seeing are the result of breeders choosing the most desirable traits in vegetables and using those seeds for planting the next generation. So the supersized tomato that makes perfect slices so you can fit one over a whole hamburger, not usually a gmo grown food but bred for its size.
One thing that struck me is breeders are responding to the market requests. People like to buy vegetables that look a certain way in grocery stores. The ones that are blemished or don’t fit our standards of what they should look like get passed over and stores then have waste that they can’t sell. If you’ve ever had a home garden, you’ll discover that what comes out naturally may not look like what you get in the store. That’s because the crops grown for the store are bred for purchase by consumers. Think about when was the last time you bought a seeded watermelon? That’s because consumers decided we preferred seedless one in the early 2000s. We valued the convenience of seedless over seeded and now the market has responded by making seeded watermelons more difficult to find.
It’s a really interesting cycle to me because there are several steps in the path from field to store with business implications at each point that I would have never thought about. As consumers we pay a premium for tomatoes in winter but never really thought about if we should be able to have tomatoes in winter or how they even are grown. The answer of how is based upon the seed that is bred for a longer ripening stage after being picked in the field. What I decided at the end of my day in the fields made me examine how I think about food choices for my family. I’ve decided that as much as we can, I’m making the effort to shop seasonally and locally for our vegetables. I realized that just because we can have something doesn’t mean we should and taste can suffer too. My boys loved tasting the tomatoes fresh from the vine. They even tried hot sweet peppers with me. The spice was a bit much but knowing where they came from made the boys very interested in trying them.
A video posted by Kendra Williams Pierson (@headbandfortoday) on
Tell me, would you have liked to visit the field and learn more? Do you think it would have changed how you shop for your family?