The Scientists, or Why Local Food Needs Public Science

The Scientists, or Why Local Food Needs Public Science

Growers in the Red Tomato network work closely with scientists at the land grant universities and experiment stations in each state in the Northeast. Winter is an especially vibrant time for these folks to connect.

One such example is the Northeast Extension virtual New England Winter Fruit Seminar Series, hosted by UMass-Amherst,  which includes expertise from Cornell Cooperative Extension, University of Vermont, University of Rhode Island, and University of Maine Extension. The series is a range of topics important to commercial fruit growers in the region, as well as Beginning Farmers and even backyard growers who are part of the next generation of northeast farmers.

Webinars range from managing the apple maggot fly to tree row volume to a most pressing subject at hand: ‘Cider Apples in 2021, Where Do We Stand?’

Red Tomato has, from its inception, worked at a granular level to engage scientists like Dan Cooley, UMass plant pathologist, and Jon Clements,
Extension Educator with UMass Cold Spring Orchard. They are both part of the Eco Apple advisory group and have helped to develop Red Tomato’s Eco
program as part of a larger effort to support growers who use sustainable practices and need to find markets for their fruit.


Dan Cooley, UMass plant pathologist (left), and Jon Clements, Cold Spring Orchard (right)


Jon, Dan and the other scientists from the region — at Cornell, UConn, Maine, Vermont, Rhode Island, and Pennsylvania among others — are available to answer questions, participate in monthly advisory calls, and share their research at annual meetings. They do the same for numerous other grower and public focused projects throughout the year. They are part of the longstanding infrastructure of public science and education in the US that is crucial to our food system — they’re public servants and generous with their time and knowledge.

Cold Spring Orchard, in Belchertown, MA, is the UMass home for fruit research. A simple door at the end of a hallway in the Cold Spring packing house opens into a whole other world: lab tables, dials and instruments, protective gear, and computers line the room. Here various UMass scientists and grad students test fruit, examine insects, and analyze data from the research plots outside. They also keep in regular contact with fellow researchers around the country and around the world to share information and collaborate.

Scientists work alongside growers, helping them to keep up with the latest research on varieties, pest management, invasive insects, diseases and weather challenges, and finding new ways to manage all of these production challenges more ecologically, economically and sustainably.

All of us benefit when we enjoy fresh local produce. It’s up to all of us, as citizens as well as consumers, to support the publicly funded scientists behind that great
research too.