You can do a lot with broccoli: steam it, roast it, deep fry it, or serve it in a soup containing copious amounts of beer and cheese (and accompanied by even more beer if you’re doing it right). It’s delicious, nutritious, and an increasingly important crop for growers as demand for it grows — but 90% of the nearly two billion pounds produced in the US each year are grown in California, much to the dismay of east coast farmers and consumers.
Currently, it can take 7-10 days from when that California grown broccoli is picked before it becomes part of your dinner menu (or before those with picky kids have to stop their little ones from conspiring with the dog to hide the evidence of their distaste). Broccoli has to be shipped in ice filled waxed boxes to slow down the degradation of the crop, and after a week on a truck not all of it may survive the trip. But that might change soon because of the work of Dr. Thomas Björkman, a renowned horticulturist and researcher at Cornell University who is one of the driving forces behind the Eastern Broccoli Project. The mission of the EBP is to create new strains of the crop that will thrive in the less consistent climate of the east coast, provide much needed crop diversity to farmers in the future, and cut down on the environmental impact of shipping broccoli across the country. ⠀
My assistant Will and I left Buffalo NY around 4:00 AM to drive out to Geneva NY where Dr Björkman tends to his trial crops at Cornell University’s Agricultural Experiment Station. Our plan was to be out in the fields before sunrise to create some portraits of the doctor with his crop on one of the last days before harvest and we could not have hoped for a more spectacular morning. Better than the weather though, was the utterly engrossing education we got in the efforts of the the EBP to create new types of Broccoli, agricultural breeding tools, and distribution system that will make the east coast broccoli industry a competitive one in the national market.
Shot for EatingWell Magazine.