As New Englanders sit down to give thanks this week, their Thanksgiving tables may be filled with an abundant supply of delicious, locally grown foods thanks, in part, to extensive agricultural research conducted by the NH Agricultural Experiment Station at the University of New Hampshire.
Here’s a snapshot.
Pass the pumpkin pie, please
What would Thanksgiving be without winter squash and pumpkins? Due to five decades of research by J. Brent Loy, emeritus professor of plant genetics and a researcher with the NH Agricultural Experiment Station, New Englanders now enjoy some of the tastiest squash and pumpkins on the market today. Loy’s experiment station-funded work, which has largely taken place at UNH's Kingman Farm, has resulted in more than 60 new varieties of squash, pumpkins, gourds and melons sold in seed catalogs throughout the world and represents the longest continuous squash and pumpkin breeding program in North America.
Don’t bristle at Brussels sprouts
Brussels sprouts are a staple at most Thanksgiving feasts. Experiment station researcher Becky Sideman, who also is UNH Cooperative Extension professor of sustainable horticulture production, recently conducted the first study on growing Brussels sprouts in northern New England. She found that different varieties of the vegetable perform much better than others, and the practice of topping has the potential to increase marketable yields. The research was conducted at the UNH Woodman Horticultural Research Farm.
Sideman’s Thanksgiving meal contributions also extend to sweet potatoes. In the first study of the performance of modern sweet potato cultivars in northern regions, she found that sweet potatoes can be a viable crop for growers in climates with short growing seasons such as New England. New Englanders might consider sweet potatoes to be more of a southern Thanksgiving side dish or dessert, but since 2007, sweet potato acreage throughout the six states has increased more than eight-fold from 4 to 33 acres, all for fresh-market sales, with most individual producers having small plantings of less than half an acre, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
An onion in winter
Sideman also is making sure that New Englanders have a local source of onions for their Thanksgiving meals, even when the snow flies. In response to high demand for year-round local produce, Sideman has successfully grown bulbing onions planted in fall for a spring harvest with the aid of inexpensive low tunnels.
For those in the Northeast who will enjoy a southern favorite — oyster dressing — on turkey day, experiment station researchers are helping make oysters safer. Cheryl Whistler, associate professor of molecular, cellular and biomedical sciences and an experiment station researcher, discovered a new method to detect a bacterium that has contaminated New England oyster beds and sickened consumers who ate the tainted shellfish. The new patent-pending detection method is a significant advance in efforts to identify shellfish harboring disease-carrying strains of Vibrio parahaemolyticus.
Hatching Agricultural Experimentation
The New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station was founded only 24 years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the proclamation that made Thanksgiving a national holiday. In 1887, William Henry Hatch, Democratic representative to Missouri and chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, sponsored legislation to establish “experiment stations” at the nation’s land-grant colleges. Hatch understood the critical role of farms in feeding a growing nation and realized the need for investment in agricultural research and development — no longer would ages-old wisdom passed from generation to generation suffice. The idea was to create hubs where experimentation could take place, at no risk to farmers, in order to equip them with knowledge and techniques to improve their operations. President Grover Cleveland signed The Hatch Act of 1887 on March 2 of that year. Today, the New Hampshire Agricultural Experiment Station is a hotbed of study for scientists from UNH Cooperative Extension, the UNH College of Life Sciences and Agriculture and other UNH colleges and schools, who are working on several active research and field sites on campus and throughout the state.
À la mode
Many lovers of apple pie enjoy a hefty scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Consumers of Hood vanilla ice cream (and those getting a head start on their eggnog) will taste products made from some of the finest milk in the region. Hood sources some of its milk from the Fairchild Dairy Teaching and Research Center, which has been long recognized for its quality milk and operations. In 2014, 2013 and 2012, the farm received the Gold Quality Award from the Dairy Farmers of America. Also in 2014, the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services recognized the dairy as a New Hampshire Quality Milk Producer. In 2013, the farm received a Quality Milk Award from Dairy One for consistently producing high quality milk with a low somatic cell count. In 1997 and 2004, Dairy One also recognized the CREAM herd as having the highest quality milk from among approximately 3,100 dairy herds on the official Northeast Dairy Herd Improvement Association test. In 1999, the farm was cited as a Dairy of Distinction by the Milk Sanitation Board, which in 2000 awarded it a Certificate of Quality.
Kiwiberry wine might become a Thanksgiving Day staple in the future due to UNH’s efforts to promote kiwiberries as a new, high-value crop in Northern New Hampshire. Plant breeder and experiment station researcher Iago Hale established a kiwiberry breeding program in 2012 at the Woodman Horticultural Research Farm. His initial work is focused on characterizing and evaluating the North American collection of cold-hardy kiwis, nearly 200 accessions, to identify promising varieties for the region and parent plants for new variety development.