Oregon State vegetable breeder goes for the “Wow!”

When developing new vegetable varieties, Oregon State University's Jim Myers enjoys solving culinary problems that people with discerning palates didn’t even know they had. While disease resistance is always a concern, developing varieties that are exciting to farmers and chefs. Myers is a vegetable breeder and professor in the OSU College of Agricultural Sciences.

One of Oregon State's pending releases is an early-maturing and mild habanero pepper designed to weather the Pacific Northwest’s cool summers and appeal to eaters who love habanero flavor but not the spicy heat usually associated with it. Myers is also working with the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC), a project funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute for Food and Agriculture, to release a broccoli variety that is both vigorous without pesticides and non-hybrid, enabling farmers to save its seed.

Two of Myers’s major accomplishments are tomatoes. The Indigo Rose variety, released in 2011, quickly attracted worldwide attention, mainly due to its striking, deep purple appearance and for being loaded with anthocyanin, an antioxidant associated with reducing risk of cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, and cancer. Myers’ colleague Lane Selman promotes varieties like Indigo Rose via the Culinary Breeding Network, which brings trial-plot farmers and chefs together to celebrate fine cuisine. Selman has utilized webinars, blogs, Instagram, even a “Variety Showcase” public event—anything to attract public attention to OSU’s tomatoes and other top-notch, disease-resistant vegetable plants that produce unique and delicious fruits.

The new tomato Midnight Roma follows in the steps of 10-year-old Indigo Rose, the first antioxidant-rich purple tomato available on the market. Midnight Roma is the result of crossing Oregon Star, a big, fleshy tomato good for slicing or paste with excellent flavor, and Indigo Rose. Row 7 Seed Co. in Tarrytown, N.Y., which has exclusive rights on Midnight Roma, is selling seed online. Co-founder Dan Barber, who has about 300,000 followers on Instagram, featured it on the social media platform and received more than 22,000 likes.

In between developing Indigo Rose and Midnight Roma, Myers introduced Indigo Cherry Drops, Indigo Pear Drops and Indigo Kiwi, all of which are readily available on the market except Kiwi.

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