This project is no small undertaking. One of the challenges stems from the fact that broccoli was originally cultivated for Mediterranean climates, so growing it in the U.S. confuses the plant’s developmental cues.
Broccoli flower buds and heads often grow unevenly on the East Coast, and, while they are perfectly edible, they do not look the same as West Coast broccoli, which is the standard across the U.S. “It’s not at all marketable—you would never see it in a store,” said Thomas Björkman, Ph.D. ’87, professor of horticulture and project director.
But over the years, Björkman and his collaborators identified the genetic markers needed to grow a more uniform-looking plant in the Eastern climate.
To understand how to fuel the East Coast market, Björkman partnered with Miguel Gómez, associate professor of agricultural economics in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, to see what appealed to both wholesale buyers and to average consumers.
Björkman and Gómez wanted to know whether consumers’ growing appetite for local foods could outweigh the differences in appearance between the Eastern and Western varieties.
Their survey found that consumers rated Western broccoli higher than Eastern—if the vegetable was unlabeled. “But as soon as you tell them it’s local, they like it better—not only how it looks but also how it tastes," Gómez said.
For food retail and service industries, the results of this survey highlight the importance of communicating that a product is locally grown.
Read more about Björkman's recent work on the Eastern Broccoli project.
Read more about Gómez's findings on consumer preferences for locally-grown broccoli.
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