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MADISON - University of Wisconsin-Madison plant scientists intend to employ some highly sophisticated instruments to evaluate new varieties of organic vegetables: the palates of the people who produce or prepare them for discerning customers.

"We think there is a great opportunity to improve collaboration between researchers working to improve the quality of fresh-market vegetables, farmers who are interested in experimenting with new and potentially higher-value crops, and chefs who are committed to serving fresh local produce," says Julie Dawson, an assistant professor of horticulture whose work focuses on direct-market farms that serve urban and regional markets.

With that in mind, UW-Madison has scheduled three field days over the next 10 weeks during which farmers, local chefs and anyone else can sample the flavors of a variety of organic vegetable crops. The events will take place from 3 to 5 p.m. on Aug. 27, Sept. 22 and Oct. 24 at the West Madison Agricultural Research Station. The events are free and open to the public.

"We have planted trials of several species of vegetables with a particular focus on flavor, selected by UW-Madison plant breeders and seed companies that produce organic seeds for fresh-market growers," Dawson says. "We have beets, carrots, onion, lettuce, hot and sweet peppers, melons, winter squash, cabbage, tomato, potatoes and sweet corn."

Each field day will include a tour of a breeding nursery or major field trial at the station, a look at all of the crops at the station's demonstration gardens, and a taste test.

The following are likely to be sampled at each event:

- Aug. 27: tomatoes, sweet corn, melons, peppers

- Sept. 22: beets, carrots, onions, tomatoes

- Oct. 24: potatoes, winter squash, carrots

The West Madison Agricultural Research Station is located at 8502 Mineral Point Road, about a half mile west of the Beltline (U.S. 12 and 14).

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