$10,000 winner

School: University of Wisconsin–Madison

PhD Candidate in Environment and Resources

“I have chosen to study plant breeding, with an emphasis on breeding for organic systems. Most commercial crop and vegetable varieties that are available today have been bred for conventional agriculture. One of the main tenets of plant breeding is to breed in the environment of intended use…Imagine the impact of crops and vegetable that can take advantage of the rich microbial communities found in organically managed soils, that have been selected to thrive in sustainable crop rotations, that perform well in combination with living mulches, or that yield better with fertilization from compost and green manures, rather than synthetic sources.

…All of the major crops that we depend on today are a result of the selection and breeding that farmers have been conducting in their fields for thousands of years. Yet the art of seed saving and plant breeding among farmers is being lost. As I began to reflect more on this, I thought of the many organic farmers that I had worked with and learned from over the past few years. All were excellent farmers, who spent considerable time and energy developing effective systems of crop rotation, weed management and disease control in order to grow the best quality organic produce. But other than poring over seed catalogues during the winter months, they spent very little time considering where their seed was coming from or how they could potentially develop better varieties on their farm. I realized that in many ways, seed was the hidden part of agriculture.”