New-Age Vegetables A Gateway To Next Gardening Gen

'Topsy Tom' tomato from PanAmerican Seed

As we’ve made our way north this week from trial to trial in California, we continue to hear concerns about why 27-year-olds like me typically don’t garden. It’s no surprise to me that most 20- and 30-something-year-olds aren’t digging in the dirt quite like the 40-and-up crowd. We’ve got college debts to repay and less time on our hands than previous generations, as we’re spending more time at work and setting aside less time for ourselves.

Costs are a big concern for young people like me. The price of gas is soaring and food prices are going up along with it. Fortunately, many of the breeders participating in the California Spring Trials are in tune with these economic developments, and they’re positioning themselves to reach new gardeners like me by launching their business into or expanding upon existing herb and/or vegetable programs.

Just look at the evolution of edibles among the breeders at Spring Trials over the last few years:

• Burpee Home Gardens has increased its visibility in a number of ways, including by 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.

•Paul Ecke Ranch, just this year, is launching Ecke Edibles. Ecke Ranch is working with Israeli breeder Hishtil and should have set genetics growers can choose from later this year.

• PanAmerican Seed has been in the vegetables arena, as well, and the company pressed the petal 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) have footprints in the edibles arena, as well.

Food, not flowers, is probably the primary reason why my 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.

Floranova/Vegetalis exhibited this concept at its trial well, mixing vegetables and flowers in raised beds and containers. If Gen Y is going to buy, we’re probably most concerned about not going hungry first. Still, if we’re going to put a ‘Bellina’ on our deck or a Cubana on our windowsill, we might as well do put them there by sprucing up a container or an area with a little more color.

‘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.

Surely there are stories we can tell young people regarding the benefits of planting vegetables and flowers together. Planting marigolds in your vegetable garden is a classic one. As people my age get more excited about growing their own food, developing a healthy lifestyle and buying locally, we need to think how flowers fit in.

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