Pacific Northwest radicchio farmers want to boost domestic markets for the crop and foster the exchange of information with Italian farmers, seed companies and breeders.
Lane Selman, Oregon State University professor and founder of the Culinary Breeding Network, recently visited farmers in Italy to deepen those connections.
She spent 12 days in Italy, visiting radicchio farmer Myrtha Zierock, who has started an Italian festival inspired by the U.S. farmers’ Sagra Del Radicchio festival. That event will take place in January, Selman said.
She also met with radicchio breeder Andrea Ghedina, who is working to improve and preserve heritage radicchio varieties.
Farmers buy seed from nurseries in Italy, but many aren’t interested in growing heritage varieties on small lots, Selman said.
“So there’s a threat that some varieties are going to go away,” she said.
Selman also toured farms.
About 22 stakeholders from the U.S. went to Italy in January 2020.
Selman said the Culinary Breeding Network has received interest from farmers in the European Union, United Kingdom and Scandinavia. She discussed with Zierock and Ghedina possible ways to expand efforts into those countries.
Selman and Laura Lewis, Washington State University Food Systems Program director, in 2020 received a $250,000 USDA specialty crop block grant through the Washington State Department of Agriculture. One of the goals is establishing a Pacific Northwest Radicchio Association.
Seven Northwest stakeholders will travel to Italy in January to bring information back to U.S. farmers, sellers and buyers. They are invited to attend the Italian festival, Selman said. It will primarily be in Italian, with specific sessions designed for the Italians and Americans to connect.
Selman hopes to apply for more grants to continue the project. Many original goals were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.
One of her biggest goals is to bring the Italian radicchio stakeholders to the Northwest for a Chicory Week in October 2022.
“We’re going there, seeing all these differences and we tell them things, but it doesn’t resonate the same as actually having them here and seeing these things,” she said.