Video 2. Dr James Simon, Ethnic Crops: Production and Nutritional Considerations

Video 2. Dr James Simon, Ethnic Crops: Production and Nutritional Considerations


Rumex, sorrel. A lot of common names mean different plants. So what Ramu didn’t have time to talk about is that as we
interview the different ethnic groups, you couldn’t just talk about names of plants because everyone uses different names. We actually had pictures. We identified what
pictures, what crops, and then finally we figured out what they were
looking at. So even when we’re talking about sorrel and other types of spinach, in particular Chinese types of brassicas, it gets a little bit confusing. And what we find is commercial seed companies find it extremely confusing and sometimes they just take out a dictionary and find out what the name of a plant should be. And then label the seed packet that way. When you open it up as a commercial grower you are lucky if it’s the right genus sometimes often the wrong species. And this we’ve been doing for over 2 decades. So no good data on that. But sorrel looks easy. It’s easy to grow. This is a plant before the first harvest. Harvest the edge at the end of the season and when is the best time to harvest? That seems so easy, doesn’t it? You work on a new crop which none of the ethnic groups necessarily agree with when the best time to harvest and you talk to us researchers and some of us have never seen the crops before as to when best to harvest, that itself becomes challenging. That of course is a key issue. You want to be able to harvest the crops in the way that the targeted ethnic consumers would now use it in a way they are used to it. When you introduce a crop like that to a different audience then you could really harvest it anytime. As long as you are introducing it commercially, then you really define when the harvesting time is. So these are crops that can go into multiple harvests. What we found was the seed source had very poor germination but excellent yield. This was not atypical. Most of the ethnic greens and crops and specialty crops don’t have the type of plant breeding efforts and seed germination, quality control standards, that we give on more traditional vegetables that we used to. So when get into this weird exotic stuff, it’s different So when you buy seeds from the same company, it could be coming from a different seed source. Germination is not usually that high. So you have to be very careful about poor germination. Test the viability and demand. Excellent, at least acceptable germination from the seed companies and make them accountable for the quality of the seed they sell you. This study we harvested sorrel three times. It had great regrowth. And again, the question is “How low do you cut it? How do you package it? And how do you bundle it? Has it regrown?” Of course to make it profitable, you don’t want American growers, or any growers around the world, I do a lot of this in other countries, you can do a crop that can be multiple harvested and still only harvest it one time. Because of its ease. You plant something every 7-10 days, harvest when its young, you bundle it, and move on. This way you have potentially less insect disease, weed control issues. But this time, the study is we try to learn about the crops, we want to just plant it once this season and then go into multiple harvests.And with this crop, we harvested 3 times. Always excellent regrowth. We did have some insect damage from Japanese beetles. Took some observations that looked promising we have to make
sure we monitor the insects before it gets commercialized. What we’re trying to do with all these crops, it would be an exaggeration to say we did it with all the crops. We try to package it, bundle it,put it into a container like this bring it to the typical bodega or other type of supermarket or small family business in our local
areas and then sell it and then say “OK, this is what we think we have. Is
this what you’re used to?” And then if it is what you’re used to, is it the right color and right taste? Is it bundled right? Then, do you like it? And we did that the first couple of years and it looked good.
to And the tentative response was A) we are growing the right plant, usually. Secondly, it looked really good. Third the consumers in the store we talking to the shop owners and wanted to buy it. There was always a good market. I’m not that strong as a marketer, I’m more of dealing with just the plants and biology. I’m always learning from our marketing team, they’re the experts. If I’m at a store, and we’re showing the store owner what it looks like and the consumers who are nosy and looking around and want to buy it from us store rather than the store owner because they figure they can get it even cheaper, that’s a good sign. And why I say it’s a lesson, when I used to be at Purdue for 17 years, I always tell this story, I was
introducing perilla. Who knew what perilla was back then? It was a good Korean green. Really confident. Get the seeds from the typical seed companies, no names needed. Then we grow the perilla. We grow it. We put it out on a farm outside Chicago and groups of Koreans would come to the farm and we were really excited. Finally, we had real perilla. And they walked right by our perilla. And they were going to other crops. And we questioned them. We said, “Do you know what this plant is?”. They said no. It’s perilla. They said it’s not our perilla. So there’s much more to a name. It needs to be the phenotype and what they’re used to. In order to make it resonate. That is if we truly want to make it market driven. There’s nothing more frustrating than growing a crop that looks good, yields good, good quality, and then you get to eat it all. Because nobody’s buying it. We’ve all had that experience, right? And you know Murphy’s law. You never have time to do it once. But you always find time to do it twice. We researchers usually take 3-4 times. We’re slow, but trainable. This is what some of the plants looked like. Over the course of this study during germination, during growing. We have, by the way, theoretically a photograph, Pete is one of our lead photographers, trying to look at what the crops look like at the seedling stage. A lot of these are weeds. Some of these we know, some of these we don’t know. But as your putting them in your field, putting them in your greenhouse, you want to make sure your thinning out the correct plant and not thinning out the crop you’re normally getting rid of. One of the biggest weeds in our fields, by the way, in all of our sites, were the weeds of the other species we were growing in replicated plots. It was kind of, we have great pictures of one plant we tried to grow, like purslane being surrounded by all the other weeds we were trying to get rid of. We were growing in another plot. OK, I’ll show you some data. I’ll go through these for doing the a lot of the analysis of it. We have color-coded so that it’s easy since we’re very tactile oriented. Orange is New Jersey. Blue is Massachusetts. And yellow, you’ll see down for Florida. It really, the higher the histogram, the higher the units. So with Indian Sorrel, New Jersey had very high plant height in one year. About the same plant height in the other year. You can look at the different bars, but in general, the statistics will show you that there’s no real difference but a grow break, grew break, in all the locations. In 2001 and 2002 we categorized them, for height, width, uniformity. The kind of way a plant stand would be. How’s the vigor, How’s the uniformity. Is it going to be competitive against other weeds. And other things in the fields. It looked great. It looked like there wasn’t that much to do except monitor for insects. We did fresh and dry weight. Of course fresh weight is it’s all full for the fresh weight. But we wanted to normalize it with the dry weight to do other types of analysis as on the plants as well. Results show that it’s not significant, meaning they all grow. It all grows well in each of the states. So that’s what we want. The whole idea, the whole concept is if you start to grow something in Florida and then you can move it up to New Jersey and up to Massachusetts. We can then occupy a window of entering into supermarkets on as many months over the course of a year as possible. Rather than in only one state or one region. Of course Florida has a little bit of an advantage of a long window but we’re competitive and we don’t want them to occupy our windows as well. We feel that it could be good seasonal. So as we get into larger supermarkets, you can have better confidence. Rather than shipping it in from from the Caribbean and other countries, we can do it here.

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