Promising a bounty of unusually-flavored offerings from mild habanero peppers to nutty potatoes, Row 7 Seed Company, a recently-launched seed and vegetable company founded in part by a Cornell professor, is aiming to diversify the produce market on campus and beyond.
Cornell plant breeder Prof. Michael Mazourek, Ph.D. ’08, integrative plant science, launched the company in association with chef Dan Barber and seed producer Matthew Goldfarb last Tuesday.
“I was working with Chef Barber on selecting for flavor and the produce was a hit, but seed distribution was often a barrier and messages and identity were often lost in the seed that were shared with the public,” Mazourek told The Sun in an email. To address this, he brought in Goldfarb to oversee the seed production and distribution sector.
Row 7 not only produces the seeds for typical supermarket fare, but Mazourek and Barber have also previously collaborated on multiple projects in an effort to produce vegetables that select for flavor.
Mazourek said Row 7 now features many products, including the Honeynut squash, a tiny squash with an intense natural sweetness; the Badger Flame beet, a beet without the usual earthiness; the Habanada pepper, a habanero pepper without the heat; and the Upstate Abundance potato, a golf-ball sized creamy and nutty potato.
In the future, Hazelnut Kitchen, a local chef partner twenty minutes away from Cornell in Trumansburg, will also feature some of these crops.
“The part that really makes Row 7 unique is through all the chefs. Chefs are excellent translators and ambassadors to be able to showcase the seeds that are being developed,” Mazourek said. “It’s through working with the chefs that we can really break the mold of what’s available and people get some diversity.”
In addition to focusing on flavor, Row 7 concentrates on sustainability. The seeds are all organic non-GMO and bred through traditional methods of cross pollination, Mazourek said. The company hopes to differentiate itself from typical breeding methods and produce vegetables that don’t resemble typical grocery commodities.
“Our efforts help democratize access to seed around patents and commodity systems [and] identify people working in the trenches on seeds that will give us more flavorful, nutritious and sustainable harvests,” said Mazourek. “Democracy, sustainability and human health are the reason for us embarking on this.”
The expansion of Row 7 results from a significant amount of Cornell research. Both the Habanada pepper and the Upstate Abundance potato were developed at Cornell — the pepper as part of Mazourek’s doctoral thesis and the potato by Prof. Walter De Jong, plant breeding.
“Much of the produce you grow or purchase has some key innovations from the long legacy of plant breeding in [the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences] at Cornell,” Mazourek said. “People might not be aware that Cornell researchers are among those improving the produce that you have available. Even if you are not a farmer, this is still impacting your life. We are working to tell those stories.”