Posted on

There is a New Superfood

I can’t quite get my mind around it, but Lettuce is the new super food. It is a new variety of lettuce created by a team of researcher breeders from Rutgers University. Nutritional breeding is the newest frontier, where in a lab a single plant cell is selected and “grown out”. From these single cell lettuces cultures, the cultures with the most desirable traits are selected and re-grown and re-selected until the Nutritional Breeders get what they are looking for. From there it is grown out as a plant to produce seed for the vegetable growers. While this new lettuce variety is not GMO, it is produced in a lab.

This process has the potential to really speed up the hybridization of vegetable breeding, shaving years off the process of bringing new varieties to market. And this new lettuce called Rutgers Scarlet is supposed to have as much nutrition as blueberries, quinoa, almonds and kale. Those are some hefty claims! Lettuce was chosen as the first vegetable to work with because it is the second most popular vegetable behind potatoes that we eat. And unlike blueberries, the season for lettuce is much longer, thus adding a nutritionally potent fresh food source available for a longer season.

I am still on the bubble on this concept of nutritional breeding. In this discussion, no one is talking about the soil, sunshine and the environment it is grown in. I believe that the soil is everything. I spend a lot of time focusing on my soil health, striking a delicate balance with nature and the ecosystem on my farm. I am hypersensitive to getting the soil as nutritionally charged as possible so that the food we grow can “do its thing”. I am not sure that food grown inside a laboratory can ever compete with food grown outside.

However, if the nutritional breeders can really produce a super food through speeding up the genetic selection within a lettuce plant and I can grow it in my organic system – I can make the mental leap to accept it. As long as the plant breeders are staying with lettuce to lettuce, carrot to carrot, apple to apple etc.

However if they start to add non lettuce traits to lettuce, I am out! I would never consider any crop that has a transgender component, which is what GMO technology uses.

I have other concerns about being so gene selective: vegetables are very complex and selecting certain traits will limit our genetic diversity of our seeds going forward. I understand the debate and the need that they are trying to meet, but maintaining a genetically diverse seed stock is also important for future generations to meet their nutritional needs.