Are All Sweet Potatoes “GMOs”?

Sweet Potato Question Mark

Are you growing, buying, or eating "GMO" sweet potatoes? How would you know?

Over the past few decades, advances in the field of genetic engineering have occurred alongside increasing public awareness of, and a variety of reactions to, the presence of genetically engineered crops and ingredients in our food systems.

If you’re someone who grows or sells sweet potatoes, some of your customers might be asking, “Are these sweet potatoes GMO?” Even if you’re just someone who buys and eats sweet potatoes, you might be asking this question too.

Before this question can be answered, however, a few terms need to be cleared up.

What does "GMO" mean, anyway?

Many people are familiar with the popular acronym “GMO”, which stands for “genetically modified organism.” The more scientifically accurate term is “genetically engineered organism.”

This term refers to any organism (such as a plant or animal) whose genome (DNA) has been altered through the use of genetic engineering techniques, in which an undesired gene is removed, or a desired gene is isolated, copied, or synthesized, before it is prepared and then inserted into the host genome. In plants, the most common techniques for inserting a gene are:

  1. Agrobacterium-mediated recombination (using a type of bacteria known for its ability to transfer DNA between itself and plants)
  2. Biolistics, also known as microparticle bombardment (using a biolistic particle delivery system, also known as a “gene gun,” to insert DNA)
  3. Electroporation (applying an electrical field to cells, in order to increase the permeability of their cell membranes, so that DNA can be introduced into the cell)

Once a cell has been transformed by using one of these methods, a new plant is grown from that cell via tissue culture. Then, tests are performed to make sure the plant contains the DNA that was added to the original cell.

There are a few different types of genetically engineered organisms. Transgenic organisms have been modified to contain gene(s) obtained from an unrelated or sexually incompatible species. Cisgenic organisms contain gene(s) from another organism of the same species, or from a sexually compatible species.

So, what about sweet potatoes? Fascinatingly, researchers discovered that sweet potatoes already contain DNA sequences from Agrobacterium within their own genome. Not only that, but sweet potato plants actively express some of these genes. In light of this discovery, sweet potatoes serve as the first known example of a naturally transgenic food crop.

“Okay,” you might ask, “But have they been genetically modified by humans?” The answer, as you might expect by now, takes the form of a “Yes, but…”

How do we genetically alter sweet potatoes?

Like any cultivated crop, sweet potatoes have been genetically modified by humans over a very long period of time, through selective breeding, to produce improved varieties with desirable traits for flavor, texture, color, shape, pest and disease resistance, drought tolerance, and so on.

Different varieties are crossed with each other via cross-pollination. Next, the offspring of these new crosses are planted and grown in field trials, in which they are observed and tested for desirable traits. Additional tests (such as bake tests and fry tests) are conducted as well. Varieties which have potential for the market (or potential for crossing with other varieties) are kept for further research, with the ultimate goal of delivering impressive, new varieties that growers and producers will want to buy.

People have also been researching how sweet potatoes may be genetically engineered in the future, but the sweet potato varieties which are commercially available today (at least in the United States) are not the product of such technology.

To answer the original the question: yes, sweet potatoes are “GMOs” – or “transgenic,” to be more precise. But at least in this case, humans can’t take all the credit.


Edmisten, K. “What Is the Difference Between Genetically Modified Organisms and Genetically Engineered Organisms?” North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Web. Accessed 22 December 2018 at

Kyndt, T., Quispe, D., Zhai, H., Jarret, R., Ghislain, M., Liu, Q., Gheysen, G. and Kreuze, J. “Sweet Potato: A Naturally Transgenic Food Crop.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112 (18) 5844-5849. 2015. Web. Accessed 22 December 2018 at

National Research Council (US) Committee on Identifying and Assessing Unintended Effects of Genetically Engineered Foods on Human Health. “Methods and Mechanisms for Genetic Manipulation of Plants, Animals, and Microorganisms.” Safety of Genetically Engineered Foods: Approaches to Assessing Unintended Health Effects. 2004. Web. Accessed 22 December 2018 at

Matthew Adkins

Matthew Adkins

Matthew graduated from NC State University in 2017 with a degree in Environmental Sciences and a minor in Agroecology. He has worked for both the Christmas Tree Genetics program and the Sweetpotato Breeding & Genetics program at NC State, and now manages a small farm in Cary, NC where he grows veggies, herbs and flowers for local restaurants.

Using Perennials

By Meylin Muniz

The Benefits of Perennials

Apples, pecans, asparagus, and blackberries- what do these delicious foods have in common? Depending on your climate zone, each of these can be planted once and with a little patience are the gifts that keep on giving (bonus: no seed-starting or tilling necessary!).

Perennials are Hardier and Require Less Care

As members of a more mature successionary stage, perennial crops are in it for the long haul. Their roots run deeper and thicker, allowing them to subsist with fewer water and fertilizer inputs. Annuals, on the other hand, demand more intensive inputs which are easily lost from their shallow and delicate root systems. This is where water pollution can become a common reality. The extensive roots of perennials also work to enrich the soil with organic matter and microbial life. The difference is so dramatic that conversion of land from perennial to annual agriculture has been shown to cut the soil organic carbon content in half over a 30-year period. Finally, the no-till-necessary perennial system reduces the erosion and soil disturbance weeds crave so much. Compare this with short-lived annuals which keep the land at the earliest stage of succession, making fast-growing annual weeds a persistent issue.

Why Are Perennials Less Prevalent?

Still, the elephant in the room remains- if perennials are so great, why are they so heavily outnumbered by annuals in food production? Over 90% of plants in nature’s reservoir are perennials, so the issue wouldn’t be a lack of options. Ironically, however, perennial crops- especially improved varieties- are difficult for farmers to come across. Up to now, scientists have worked almost exclusively on breeding and making specialized equipment for annual varieties.

Then there is the issue of wait time which doesn’t feel worthwhile for growers on rented land (slow and steady output is the perennial motto). A mix of annuals for immediate income and perennials for a value-added investment may be best. For some of the more quicker growing perennials, check out this page:

Using Perennial Alternatives

Finally, not every annual has an identical perennial counterpart. Sure, fruits nuts, herbs, and flowers are easy enough additions. However, many perennial alternatives (particularly vegetables) are unfamiliar to consumers even if they are just as delicious! If you are still feeling adventurous after reading, feast your eyes on some of the perennial vegetables growing in your climate zone:

Or consider picking up a copy of Perennial Vegetables by Eric Toensmeier.

Integration of perennials may take the shape of agroforestry. Trees can be mixed with annuals, pasture, or both depending on the goals of the farmer. Typically, perennials are planted in fall to promote strong root growth through the winter, but this is only a general rule.

Use of Perennials is Expanding

Many institutions have taken notice of the benefits of perennial crop production such as increased landscape and financial resilience. For example, organizations like the Land Institute are working to “perennialize” existing annuals that make up the bulk of human nutrition like grains, legumes, and oilseed crops. Helping in this mission are scientists that look at the perennial food crops we do have in production. An interesting finding is that perennial crops have much fewer genetic bottlenecks than annuals despite being domesticated over thousands of years and showing differentiation from their wild counterparts. 

This suggests that trait selection doesn’t have to be at the cost of great losses in genetic diversity. With some of these exciting developments already in their final stages, we can expect to see foods like rice and wheat make their debut onto the perennial scene soon- part of a growing movement to give these tough plants a well-deserved chance in the field and on our plates.

Meylin Muniz

Meylin Muniz

I’m a Plant Science student at the University of Florida specializing in Sustainable Crop Production with a deep interest in closed-loop systems and regenerating soil fertility. If I’m not studying, I can also be found writing, running, and taking pictures of critters in the garden. During the summers, I spend time in Miami with family. I think food is a great way for people to connect; some of my favorites are mangoes, peanuts, and oats.

Selling to Chefs: Overcoming the Logistic Challenges

Farm fresh chef's vegetables

By Adrienne Cohen

Whether you call it farm to table, locally sourced food, or a hyper-local food revolution, today’s hot trend is toward buying ingredients that are produced closer to the point of consumption. We have seen the growth of craft beers and local wineries, the explosion in popularity of local farmers markets and regionally-produced cheeses, pick-your-own orchards and vegetable farms. Numerous pop-up dining venues and eateries with limited menus feature only seasonally-available options, and their numbers increase every day.

It’s not only television chefs and fine-dining establishments that embrace the flavor, nutritional value and seasonal variety of foodstuffs and ingredients produced close to home; it’s also homemakers who frequent weekly farmers markets for organic produce and natural foods. It’s anyone who helps support a sustainable environment by buying from local farmers. And it’s the taste appeal of artisan bread, homemade jams and pickles, and local salad greens.

Reasons are diverse, ranging from distrust directed at big producers, recent food scares, flavor, freshness, GMOs and environmental concerns.

A Creative Collaboration

One-of-a-kind cafe owners, Mom and Pop proprietors, trendy food truck cooks and chefs who know the importance of fresh, tasty, natural ingredients have discovered the value of seasonal menu options. They recognize even more value in developing personal relationships with the people who grow and produce the food.

Rather than simply placing orders for ingredients that must be transported an average of 1,500 miles from farm to table, they get to know their suppliers by name and forge bonds that lead in innovative directions. They even suggest new crops on occasion, to the delight of growers who love to experiment.

Farmers who sell directly to restaurant chefs gain an understanding of the creative process of recipe testing and menu development. Not only is there a financial advantage for both, but the corresponding boost in respect becomes clear and well-defined.

The Logistics of Delivery

Delivering the goods, however, can represent a major stumbling block. Crop scheduling, farm recordkeeping and production management are tedious and time-consuming chores for a small farmer. Add time away from the farm to make deliveries and the business model can become untenable. Chefs, for their part, traditionally require a guaranteed order delivered on a regular timetable, a need that can be torpedoed occasionally by weather or pest infestation. Mutual understanding is key.

Almost 50 chefs throughout Dallas and Collin Counties now constitute a core group of food professionals who have taken the “seed to plate” concept way past the experimental stage. Profound Microfarms, a family-run farm in Lucas, Texas, a suburb approximately 25 miles north of the Dallas core, was the innovative catalyst. Jeff Bednar’s greenhouse hydroponics farm produces a variety of leafy greens, herbs and edible flowers, and during a past several years, since starting his farm, he forged relationships with a number of local chefs and restaurateurs. “We speak chef,” he says, noting that he enjoys learning from the chefs and responding to their requests for unusual produce, including edible flowers.

In April of 2018, Bednar and Nelson Carter of Cartermere Farms in nearby Celina teamed up to form Profound Foods, a farmers distribution company that now delivers products from about a dozen different farmers to chefs across a two-county swath of North Texas. The deliveries, made on Tuesday and Thursday, include a variety of different proteins, including beef, lamb, pork, chicken and eggs, cheeses, greens and other vegetables, herbs and edible flowers.

Goals and Long-Term Plans

“We want to raise awareness for local food,” according to Bednar. Across the country, there is ongoing interest in a variety of unique models for food hubs and farmer-directed coops to expand the availability of locally-grown food.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture endorses the effort; Profound Foods is the recipient of a $495,000 USDA grant that will allow the venture to grow during the next three years. The plan is to add new farms, attract new restaurants, expand the delivery territory to nearby Fort Worth, purchase equipment, including computers and refrigerated trucks, and hire a full-time driver. The fledgling company has already brought on board a staff director of farmer relations. The future is bright, says Bednar.

While it may be rare these days for a chef to visit the field to select fresh produce or to personally pick a side of beef, restaurants throughout the country are partnering with small-to-medium size producers to satisfy customer demand for fresh, nutritious food. The details may differ from one region to the next, but a powerful collaboration is being driven by innovative growers and food producers who market and deliver directly to enthusiastic chefs and local restaurateurs.

We all become winners when the collaboration is successful.

It’s possible to taste the difference when the lettuce and tomato on your burger was picked that same morning, and conversation seems to flow more naturally at the local coffee shop when both chef and customer can greet a farmer who deliver eggs and bacon to the back door. If that was once the norm in small-town America, it may again become the standard for market farming in the modern age.

Adrienne Cohen
Adrienne Cohen

Adrienne Cohen is a full-time freelance writer with a passion for travel, good food, urban agriculture, school gardens, and architecture and design. She writes about them all and is happiest when her travel plans allow her to visit with farmers and educators, restaurant owners and chefs in far-flung places. Although her forebears were farmers, she claims to struggle with her own garden, but loves plucking fresh flowers from their stems and harvesting fresh herbs to use in new recipes. She is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association, maintains a couple of personal blogs and contributes to travel, agricultural and lifestyle magazines, both online and for print versions.





It’s Pumpkin Season!

Crowded pumpkin field ready to harvest on a cloudy Autumn day

This large, orange fruit (yes- fruit!) is typically associated with autumn and the Halloween and Thanksgiving holidays. Pumpkins always remind me of cooler temperatures, changing leaves, and time with family and friends. Not only are pumpkins a fall staple in the United States, but they are also full of nutrients and are being used as flavoring in more and more food products. Read more to find out how pumpkins are harvested and how you can use them in some of your favorite dishes this season!

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Have you Heard about Hydroponic Lettuce Farming?

Soilless Cultivation Practice

Hydroponic lettuce farming is a soilless cultivation practice that uses water and dissolved nutrient salts to grow plants. Here at Umass Hydroponics romaine lettuce is grown on 4×8 foot tables, where it floats on foam rafts. Lifting the lettuce rafts out of the water reveals a vast web of healthy white roots essential for plant growth. The roots can become over a foot long. Something you would have noticed if you lifted an individual lettuce out of the water a few months ago is something called pythium root rot. Plant diseases are a reality of hydroponic farming, just like any other type of farming. But the kinds of diseases that hydroponic crops get are different from those of more traditional farming practices. For example, powdery mildew particularly effects hydroponic lettuce; this is because the dry foliage and humid greenhouse conditions create the perfect setting for its proliferation. At the Umass Hydroponic facility, we’ve been experimenting with a few organic disease control techniques which seem to be working. The first is the inclusion of a compost tea in the hydroponic water system. This, which has an abundance of microorganisms, acts to displace the microbe population which is causing the pythium root rot, thereby restoring the health of the root microbiome kind of like a probiotic.

The second is the application of a special mix of water, potassium bicarbonate, neem oil, and soap in a sprayer. When applied generously and thoroughly to the leaf surface of the lettuce,  conditions which are hostile to growth are created for the powdery mildew fungus. This is effective because it raises the pH of the leaf surface, while also acting as a potassium supplement for the plant. Otherwise, conditions within a hydroponic greenhouse are much easier to control than, for instance, crops grown in soil.

Easy Nutrient Application & Management

Another positive attribute of hydroponic farming is the ease with which nutrients can be applied and managed. It was actually through hydroponic techniques in the 1860’s that Sachs and Knops showed that simple organic salts were essential plant nutrients (Harris). When dissolved in water, these simple nutrient salts separate into ions like K+ (potassium), P+ (phosphorus), and Ca+ (calcium), which can be easily measured by a device that senses the electrical conductivity of the water flowing through the hydroponic system. Because this is true, nutrient conditions can easily be adjusted to be optimal for whatever crop you are growing. The pH can also be managed in a like fashion. Finally, the amount of light can be easily managed, and to an extent, the humidity and temperature. This is why, it has been suggested by hydroponic professionals, that a hydroponic system is ideal for experimenting with ecological functions like testing relationships between different plants, environments, and microbes because for the most part, variables of the system can be controlled scientifically; and it is, relative to outdoor farming, a closed system.

Oxygen Helps Plant Thrive While Submerged

It may seem strange to some people how plant roots in hydroponic system are totally submerged in water, when it is common knowledge that plants oversaturated with water will drown. In that case, the plants die because of a lack of oxygen ; plant roots perform respiration through their roots, actually obtaining oxygen from pore space in soil. But in hydroponic systems, there is enough oxygen in the water to support the respiration of plant roots. In our system, the addition of oxygen is achieved by a waterfall: water flows off the side of the table and splashes into a tub. The movement and crashing of the water adds to it oxygen, which is then pumped back into the pool where the plant roots are dangling. Hydroponic farming is a fascinating and potentially lucrative way to grow crops. It applies scientific knowledge and technology to create a highly controlled environment optimal for growing. It may seem hightech, but in reality, the process is relatively simple . While requiring some input cost for materials and also space it is feasible for ordinary people to create their own system, learning from text and internet sources.

About Erik Vegeto

Erik is a student of Plant, Soil and Insect Science at Umass Amherst. He has a passion for restorative agriculture and environmental stewardship that drives him forward into new frontiers of thought. Erik loves to read, play guitar, and be creative. One day he hopes to have his own farm and write for a living.

Works cited:

Harris, Dudley. Hydroponics: Gardening without Soil: Easy to Follow
Instructions for the Flat dweller, Hobbyist and Commercial Grower . Purnell, 1971.

Holiday Farm Sales – An Opportunity Not to be Missed!

Image courtesy of The Misty Manor Mercers

Looking at the Black Friday and Small Business Saturday ads the past few days, the pain that many farmers feel this time of year hits home. The farmers’ markets are mostly closed down for the season, and so is that extra income that comes from them. Even if you’ve had a separate harvest, it’s probably done for the year and you know that money needs to be budgeted carefully to make it work through a long winter. The holiday season is coming and there’s an expectation for presents, family visiting and travel in the air. How are you going to get in a little extra money coming in for the season? Holiday sales! Here’s a quick look at a few options you can consider to bring in some additional money over the course of the holiday season.

  • Celebrate the season – on the farm! Offer one or many opportunities for people to come to your farm for a seasonal event, such as offering hayrides around your property, pick-your-own options and similar possibilities. Agri-tourism has been growing by leaps and bounds over the past decade or two as people want to get closer to their food source. You have the opportunity to grow a larger, more loyal customer following as more people learn about your operation and family. This is also a great time to bring in more customers to next years’ farmer’s market booth by promoting that as part of your overall process.
  • Add value. You may sell the most amazing tomatoes during the market season, but with a little work, you can offer preserved items through the rest of the year, such as tomato sauces, salsas, sun-dried tomatoes and similar options. This will require a certain amount of research into what’s allowed in your state, county and, should you choose to bring them to market, in the farmer’s market as well. However, organizations that have certified commercial kitchens available, such as churches and community groups, are often happy to rent them out during their downtime provided that the facilities are cleaned up well afterward.
  • Organize a farmer’s market holiday market. Some farmer’s markets will provide their vendors with the opportunity to reach out into the community after the season has closed down for one or two special events to move a little more produce, value-added products, CSAs or similar aspects that help promote both the farmer’s market and the farms themselves. These events are often planned indoors if the weather isn’t just perfect or can’t be anticipated for that time of year. Though this may require a certain amount of advertising and a bit of word-of-mouth to get a good turnout, but can be an excellent source of extra holiday income.
  • Diversify your offerings. Though you may provide plenty of produce during the summer, what about your beautiful end-grain wood cutting boards that you’ve been churning out during your downtime, the amazing quilts or crocheted blankets your daughter turns out so regularly or the wonderful homemade soaps and candles your aunt puts together? Adding a few crafts to fill out your booth, especially when produce is starting to let up, provides you with a great way to bring in more customers who may not be looking for produce while bringing in more income for your farm as a whole.
  • Advertise for free with other forms of media. If your market has officially closed for the year, that doesn’t mean that your opportunities for selling produce or value-added products are over! Facebook’s Marketplace, Craigslist and Etsy all offer options for moving a few more items after the main farmers market season has ended, though they’ll require a little more work to get the ads worded how you want for the best effect. You’ll also want to check with your local, state and county laws about whether you’ll require a business license to sell from your farm, though there are exemptions in many cases and several states have exemptions in place for farms that are selling “at the farm gate”.

By taking a few of these off-season market farming approaches to improving your income and opportunities, your small farm can remain sustainable and growing throughout the entire year, making your holidays merry and bright and the new year more promising than ever. Whether your family farm’s focus is on hydroponics, avoiding genetically modified organisms, organic or natural production, greenhouse opportunities or simply staying sustainable, making your operation more efficient in terms of recordkeeping, crop management, farm planning and production management, you can ensure that your family farm will stay strong to be passed on to the next generation. Have an amazing holiday season and a fabulous new year as 2019 comes rolling in!

Cathleen Vought, Jane of all trades, is a farmer, educator, blogger and more!
Cathleen Vought

Cathleen Vought is a freelance content and copywriter living on a small farm in southwest Missouri with her husband and daughter, two dogs, a few dozen Shetland sheep and chickens, too many cats and a Morgan-Arabian mare with serious attitude. A strong believer in social entrepreneurship, she has over two decades of experience as a volunteer disaster and medical responder, living the quote, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” She spends her free time working with wild edible and medicinal plants, fiber arts, playing with hot glass at her torch and renovating the family’s historic farmhouse.


6 Market Farming Crops That Tap Into the Healthy Holiday Cooking Trend

When you’re trying to make the most of limited greenhouse resources, trying to plan your crop scheduling around culinary trends may sound futile. However, a willingness to at least try and keep up with long lasting trends in cooking can make the difference between success and failure at market farming. With traditional holiday foods featuring high levels of saturated fat, sodium, sugar, and refined flour, there’s been a decade-long shift towards healthy holiday cooking that you can tap into. Try at least one popular farm vegetable crop listed below that can help boost your sales during the holiday season.

  1. Cauliflower

With the increase of adherence to vegetarian and vegan diets, many home cooks have recently turned to roasting whole heads of cauliflower in place of meat main dishes like turkeys and hams. Mashed, pureed, or even riced cauliflowers has been a trendy replacement for starch heavy potato and rice dishes for nearly a decade now. This is one of the more time and labor intensive cruciform vegetables to grow, but the higher price per pound for a quality head makes it worth the work of adding it to your marketing farming efforts. Smaller side shoots and miniature varieties ripen fast and are easily marketed as quick roasting and easy to slice after cooking whole.

  1. Lentils

Lentils won’t work for greenhouse or hydroponics growing in most cases, but it’s a great rotational crop for small farms with open field acreage and a relatively long cool season with mild temperatures. Locally grown lentils demand a high price per pound as a specialty organic crop, while they’re also replenishing the soil where you grow them since they’re a legume that fixes nitrogen. Make sure you’re willing to invest in small scale winnowing and threshing equipment if you add this crop to your routine. Brown, green, red, and yellow lentils are all commonly used to create tasty vegan and vegetarian meat-free lentil loaves for holiday meals that are packed with flavor, protein, and fiber.

  1. Sweet Potatoes

Growing in a hot and humid climate or a heated greenhouse environment instead? Try sweet potatoes for a double crop that is in high demand for all sorts of holiday dishes. While many market farmer customers are primarily familiar with eating the roots of the sweet potato, they’ll be happy to learn that the greens are mild and nutritious as well. Sell your trimmings from exuberant growth in your greenhouse or hydroponics system to make money on salad mixes in addition to sweet potatoes sold to make Thanksgiving casseroles and Christmas pies.

  1. Root Crops

Root crops often go out of vogue for decades at a time, but they’re enjoying a renaissance for now and deserve attention since many of them grow quickly and produce a harvest within one to three months. From specialty radishes to colorful carrots, tiny tender turnips, creamy parsnips, and even unusual sunchokes, you have plenty of options to find root crops that fit your chosen market farming method and climate. Many root crops like parsnips are lower in carbohydrates than potatoes and other holiday standards, so they’re popular even among market shoppers following paleo and low carb diets.

  1. Winter Squash

While butternuts and acorn squash were once primary in demand only for holiday meals, now these squash are easily sold from long-term storage all year round. Unique and unusual hybrids of spaghetti squash mixed with sweeter kabocha and pumpkin are in high demand for trendy holiday dishes that also happen to fit into many diets and satisfy healthy eating concerns. Be sure to outline the exact features and benefits of specific winter squash at the market since many varieties feature high levels of important vitamins and nutrients with low fat and moderate carb content.

  1. Kale

Kale’s time as a superstar has come and gone, but it remains a staple for healthier eating for many people. It’s one of the easiest greens to mix into stuffing, salads, appetizers, and even vegetarian and vegan main dishes like nut and lentil loaves. While it’s no longer quite trendy enough to plan an entire season around, most markets will support a steady sale of many dark and bitter greens during the holiday season. Commit to a little space for the most popular varieties of kale in your farm vegetable crop planning for a easy to grow holiday crop that remains in-demand from year to year.

Regardless of the crops you choose to grow for holiday markets and CSA delivers, you’ll need the right farm planning software to manage recordkeeping and rotational information. Check your fall and winter growing and sales plan at a glance by using Vegetable Grower Manager to keep everything under control and boost productivity at the same time.

Jessica Kolifrath farmer, educator and blogger

Jessica grew up eating homegrown tomatoes and showing rabbits at livestock shows, so it’s no wonder she has her own 3 acre organic hobby farm today that will soon be home to a small licensed nursery for valuable trees and native shrubs. When she’s not busy with her own gardens and chickens, she enjoys helping build greenhouses and weed the blueberry fields at her friend’s 30 acre organic fruit and vegetable plant farm.


Wake Up and Smell the Flowers

Flower Salad

Restaurant chefs and gourmet bakers have long been proponents of unusual herbs and flowers to enhance food flavor and add visual excitement. Most cooks have little experience with edible flowers, however, and growers have traditionally kept flower gardens and vegetable plots well separated.

Even if you understand that some types of flowers repel pests, and that produce often benefits from a symbiotic relationship with other plants, flowers and vegetables are often at opposite ends of the growing spectrum.

That may be changing, if modern trends are any indication. Will it last?

Proponents of eco-gardening note that edible flowers and the use of multiple parts of a single plant are somewhat forgotten arts that are worthy of being revived. The practice is common in many cultures, and there is ample evidence that some edibles, including fragrant, digestible flowers, also have healing and mood-changing properties.

Sunflower sprouts and edible flowers salad

Growers in numerous “foodie capitals,” including the Dallas-Fort Worth area, report a surging demand for blossoms. Many well-known chefs prefer locally-grown produce, and eagerly purchase lettuces and microgreens, heirloom tomatoes, carrots, peppers and beets, exotic mushrooms, and flowers from individual farmers and from local farm stands and farmers markets. Restaurant customers welcome the flavors and the unexpected dining experiences. Edible flowers add new dimension and spice not only to salads and entrees, but also to craft cocktails, specialty teas and desserts.

Part of the popularity can be traced to the public’s demand for fresh, natural ingredients, and the growth of farm-to-table venues. It also speaks to a desire to return to a time when backyard gardens were the norm, and when home cooks practiced self-sufficiency, sustainable lifestyles and enjoyed kitchen experimentation.

But it doesn’t end there.

Flower Power

Today, casual gardeners and professional growers alike have discovered the joys — and the profit — produced by crops that are as beautiful as they are fragrant and flavorful. Gardeners today grow flowers to enhance the home landscape, and those same flowers can add spice to family meals. There is a growing organic market for floral mainstays like pansies, nasturtiums, marigolds and lavender. There is also newfound interest in plants at one time considered weeds — dandelions and purslane, as examples — and for root vegetable greens that were once simply discarded, carrot tops and colorful beet greens among them.

Stuffed squash and zucchini blossoms are not unusual in the South and Southwest, and other flowers are used in Asian dishes, but salads made with nasturtium leaves and blossoms have been uncommon until recently. Dandelion bread pudding, lilac scones, pansy pancakes and red poppy pasta sauce may not be on your home horizon yet, but such recipes are widely available. Professional chefs at local hotels might grow their own edible flowers, but farmers markets shoppers also want unusual products. There is a new desire to “get back to the earth,” to focus on health and wellness, and to prepare and enjoy healthful, nutritious food.

Delicate violets and candied rose petals have for some time been favored wedding cake decorations, but they are now joined by a wide variety of other blooms. Whole flowers make attractive fresh garnishes, but flowers of all kinds may also be dried, boiled, baked, battered and fried, used to infuse teas and other drinks, added to soups or used to flavor meat and fish cooked on a grill. The perception is that naturally grown food, including tasty flowers, will contribute to lasting well-being.

There are myriad options. As you may know, herb flowers often taste just like their leaves, but they’re prettier. They add subtle flavor without overpowering other ingredients; they also add sophistication to simple meals. The bottom line is that flowers are no longer just supporting players. They are becoming stars in contemporary kitchens.

Get Acquainted with Flowers

It’s important to know your flowers. Some of the prettiest are not so good to eat; others will send you to the doctor with symptoms that range from rashes to stomach or intestinal upsets, even stupor and, in rare cases, death. But the same is true of all plants. Simply “weed out” plant options that can cause problems. As with anything unknown, if you’re uncertain, always err on the side of caution. Never sample any part of a plant unless you know it’s safe.

Container gardening is especially suitable for growing edible flowers, because many of them are annuals. But flowers can also be interspersed along the rows of your vegetable garden. Experimentation is the key to success. Gardening should be creative, and it is a constant adventure, whether undertaken for fun or profit. Managing your crops requires not only the basic knowledge, of course, but also the will to improvise.

If a crop of edible flowers is something you’ve been considering, now may be the perfect time. The harvest is likely to be rewarding.

Adrienne Cohen
Adrienne Cohen

About:  Adrienne Cohen is a full-time freelance writer with a passion for travel, good food, urban agriculture, school gardens, and architecture and design. She writes about them all and is happiest when her travel plans allow her to visit with farmers and educators, restaurant owners and chefs in far-flung places. Although her forebears were farmers, she claims to struggle with her own garden, but loves plucking fresh flowers from their stems and harvesting fresh herbs to use in new recipes. She is a member of the North American Travel Journalists Association, maintains a couple of personal blogs and contributes to travel, agricultural and lifestyle magazines, both online and for print versions.




Asparagus growing in field

Asparagus is known for it’s rich, succulent flavor and has been seen as a delicacy since ancient times. This vegetable is packed with vitamins and antioxidants. Asparagus is best consumed during the spring months (April-May), when its stalk is nice and strong. Make sure you hurry and eat your asparagus- it has a short season and deteriorates quickly after picking!

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Fresh picked strawberries, sitting in pile ready to use in salad or eat!

Did you know that the United States is the world’s largest commercial producer of strawberries? The U.S. produces 3 billion pounds of strawberries per year! Fresh strawberries are characterized by their red color, juicy texture, distinct aroma, and sweet, fruity flavor. Since there are over 500 varieties of strawberries grown worldwide, you can easily buy strawberries year-round.

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