If there was one category that stood out during all of California Spring Trials in 2012, it was definitely the growth in edibles offerings. While vegetables and herbs have been a growing trend for a few years now, the number of breeders expanding existing lines or jumping in for the first time as striking.
And it’s no wonder, as the demand seems to keep growing. The economic downturn in 2008 created heightened consumer interest in growing food at home. But even as fortunes have begun to improve for many Americans, there continues to be an increased desire for local, sustainable food production.
That shift in attitudes may just be the sweet spot that helps our industry begin to seriously break through with a younger generation that, to this point, hasn’t been quite as excited about
gardening as their parents and grandparents did. Edibles may just be the gateway to Generation Y.
Breeders are clearly seeing the opportunity. The evolution of edibles at Spring Trials over the last few years has been impressive:
• Burpee Home Gardens has increased its visibility in a number of ways, like positioning vegetables as a healthy choice behind the Burpee Boost program that continues to grow.
• Floranova/Vegetalis is all over edibles with 2011 introductions like ‘Cherry Falls’ tomato, ‘Basket of Fire’ pepper and ‘Field of Dreams’ corn, as well as two new vegetables this year in ‘Bellina’ sweet pepper and ‘Cayennetta’ hot pepper.
• Sakata, with its long, rich history in vegetables, continues to build upon its Home Grown program with new introductions. Syngenta Flowers is doing the same with its garden vegetable program.
• The Ecke Ranch is launching Ecke Edibles. Ecke is working with Israeli breeder Hishtil and should have set genetics growers can choose from later in 2012.
• PanAmerican Seed has been in the vegetables arena, as well, and the company pressed the pedal to the metal this Spring Trials with advanced varieties like ‘Easy Pick Gold’ zucchini and ‘Topsy Tom’ tomato.
• Don’t forget American Takii (Cubana peppers), Plug Connection (Mighty ‘Mato) and ABZ Seeds (‘Toscana’ and ‘Gasana’ strawberries) also have footprints in the edibles arena.
Edibles Entice Young Growers
Food, not flowers, is probably the primary reason why a younger generation would buy into one of these companies’ product offerings. But many of these companies are focusing on edibles as ornamentals, which can be the bridge our industry needs to get Generation Y into the garden.
This younger consumer seems to have a strong connection to local, sustainable products. Thus, growing their own food has a special appeal. If you can show them how these food crops can be a great decorative option as well, that sale becomes much easier.
Floranova/Vegetalis exhibited this concept at its trial well, mixing vegetables and flowers in raised beds and containers. ABZ’s ‘Toscana’ strawberry is a great example of a variety that’s already providing fruit and flowers in one container. If we can keep new herb and vegetable introductions moving in this direction, the industry’s relevancy with Gen Y will be all the better. If not, let’s continue to move down this edibles road and remind young people flowers have a place too.
As young people get more excited about growing their own food, developing a healthy lifestyle and buying locally, we need to help them think about how flowers fit in.