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Kale is on the minds of Laurie McKenzie, Christina Hagerty and Kara Young.

The three Oregon State University horticulture students spent a rainy recent Thursday morning harvesting rabe — clusters of green buds — from of kale planted on a one-quarter acre plot at Lewis-Brown Horticulture Research Farm, located on Peoria Road.

After gathering rabe in bunches of 15 steams each from the 13 different varieties of kale planted at the farm, McKenzie and Hagerty, graduate students, and Young, an undergraduate senior, counted and weighed their yield.

“Our number one objective was to find kale varieties that could over winter and handle cold conditions,” McKenzie said.

But the three, working with the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative, aren’t hoping to just find the perfect organic kale. Through trials, they’re seeking out the varieties of sweet corn, winter squash, snap peas, broccoli and carrots that thrive in organic soils and without pesticides and chemicals.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded project pairs OSU with the Organic Seed Alliance and the University of Wisconsin and Cornell University. Under the leadership of project leader Jim Myers, an OSU horticulture endowed professor, researchers from the three universities and several organic farms — including Philomath’s Gathering Together Farm — have trialed produce varieties for the past two years of the four-year project.

Farms and their nearby university in each region also conduct research on the region’s farmers’-choice varieties (kale is one of these crops for the season).

John Eveland, owner of Gathering Together Farm, said the project gives farmers a chance to learn what varieties of organic produce work best on their own land. Often during summer months, a farmers’ time is taken up by raising and harvesting crops.

“Being able to do a lot of on-farm trials, done in real-time conditions, is pretty valuable,” Eveland said.

Eventually, the group plans to compile their collected data on the various crop varieties for an online database accessible to farmers nationwide.

“Our overall goal is to look for varieties that are a good fit for organics,” McKenzie said. “How can we make organic farming more successful?”

Contact Gazette-Times reporter Gail Cole at

541-758-9510 or gail.cole@gazettetimes.com.

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