Mar 27, 2019
Cornell releases new Galaxy Suite grape tomato varieties

New York farmers now have a new way to satisfy consumers’ hunger for something different. Phillip Griffiths, associate professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell AgriTech, has released a collection of organic grape tomato varieties that are pretty, profitable and pack a culinary punch.

The new Galaxy Suite of five grape tomato varieties offers outstanding flavor in novel shapes and colors: the yellow fingerling Starlight, orange grape-shaped Sungrazer, small red grape-shaped Comet, marbled and striped Supernova, and dark purple pear-shaped Midnight Pear. They are available now from High Mowing Organic Seeds.

“These varieties are ideal for organic and conventional growers, or hobby gardeners, and will make a great contribution to the diversity and quality available for small-fruited tomato medleys,” said Griffiths. “They provide high flavor options with good shelf life and aesthetics in high-yielding plants for growers.”

Griffiths, whose breeding program seeks to diversify quality traits in fresh vegetables, started this project in response to consumer demand for more local, organic products with better flavor, color, quality and uniqueness.

“This led me to focus on the incredible natural diversity in heirloom vegetables with their unique shapes and colors and to hone in on developing higher quality products using traditional selective breeding,” Griffiths said.

By harnessing that diversity, Griffiths also created products that may connect more New York farmers to lucrative niches in markets like New York City. His Galaxy Suite combines consumer-quality traits with better yields, uniformity and firmness to stand up to transportation. The new varieties also perform well in high tunnels, greenhouses that many New York growers use to extend the short upstate growing season.

The Galaxy Suite of grape tomatoes has already sparked interest from markets such as Wegmans, which performed small field trials on their organic farm last season.

“They grew and produced well, and Phillip’s focus on developing varieties that produce high flavor, without jeopardizing productivity, really came through,” said Jess Crabtree, growing manager at the Wegmans Organic Farm & Orchard. “Our customers desire fresh, local produce that is both organically and sustainably grown, so any new varieties that are developed to produce well in the Northeast and can experience an extended growing season through high-tunnel productionmean good things for New York state growers and our customers.”

Starlight, a yellow fingerling tomato, is part of Griffiths’ Galaxy Suite. Photo: Phillip Griffiths

Hannah Swegarden, who is undertaking her Ph.D. research with Griffiths, brought samples and conducted taste tests at various New York City Greenmarkets and also demonstrated them with Griffiths and staff from High Mowing Organic Seeds at the Culinary Breeding Network’s 2018 Variety Showcase in New YorkCity.

Common questions were, “Where can I buy these?” and “Where can I get seed of these?” Swegarden said.

Liz Carollo, assistant director of GrowNYC’s Greenmarket program, believes Griffiths’ work is essential to her market’s mission. “Our customers expect innovation and improvements to ingredients based on physical attributes and flavor,” she said. “Chefs especially respond to new varieties. They, and many Greenmarket customers, are also demanding a shift towards growing in organic systems and without a reliance on chemicals, which we all know will not happen without innovative plant breeding and research.”

“This effort is coming to fruition at the same time these markets are expanding,” Griffiths said. “It has helped us link with consumers, farm-to-market growers and people who are ultimately just interested in great food.”

– Sarah Thompson, Cornell University

Photo at top: Phillip Griffiths, associate professor of plant breeding and genetics, has released a collection of organic grape tomato varieties dubbed The Galaxy Suite. Above, Hannah Swegarden, horticulture doctoral student, with a bin of Galaxy Suite tomatoes. Photo: Matt Hayes

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