Meet Taylor Maida, High Mowing's Trials Lead
If you've gotten the High Mowing Seed Catalog over the years, chances are you've seen her. Taylor Maida, the Trials Lead at High Mowing Organic Seeds, may not choose to be in the spotlight, but photos of her and her work are often scattered throughout the pages of our yearly catalog. Behind the scenes, Taylor's expertise and know-how over the years has contributed directly to the wide selection of resilient, organic varieties we offer our growers today.
The Journey into Organic Agriculture
Taylor chose to work for High Mowing as she was eager to get a better understanding of where food comes from. Her first real job in high school was at an outdoor market in Virginia. The market sold produce and some plants that were shipped in from farms in North Carolina and other states and this peaked her curiosity about local food systems. When attending college, she chose a job at a horticultural nursery but found herself more passionate about edible plants and crops. An opportunity to work on an organic farm presented itself and she never looked back. She recalls, "It was love at first sight once I saw how things grew–how brussels sprouts grew, what dinosaur kale looked like, how when you washed up after trellising tomatoes the water was neon yellow/green. Everything was a new discovery and I was hooked. There was just so much to learn."
Taylor's love for vegetables in particular continued to grow and her decision to work at High Mowing allowed her to mix her belief in the importance of organic agriculture, her investigative and scientific mind, and the physical and rewarding act of cultivating crops. Considering herself a very tactile person, Taylor has found that she feels grounded spending the growing season in the garden and actually loves all of the paperwork that comes with documenting trials data. Thriving in organized systems, Taylor has been celebrated in the seed world for her exceptionally thorough trials data and evaluations.
Selecting New Varieties to Trial
Throughout each year, the High Mowing Product Development team meets to identify potential "slots," or crops with specific and desirable attributes that may be missing from what is currently being offered to growers through the website and catalog. These slots could be things like, a colorful snap pea or an elongated yellow onion. Once these slots are prioritized and agreed upon, Taylor then connects with as many vendors and breeders as she can to identify existing or up and coming varieties to fill the slots. These materials are being developed by a range of organizations including large companies, independent breeders, farmer breeders, university breeders, hobby gardeners and others. If the material can be located and sourced, seeds are brought to the trials farm to be grown out and evaluated by Taylor and Monique Gerbex, Taylor's talented and dedicated trials crew member.
All of the data collected from the trial for each variety is recorded and sent back to the seed vendor in a report. The report includes both quantitative and qualitative data and pictures. The type of data collected may differ from one crop type to the next, as different attributes are important for different crops. Taylor outlines what the trials team thought about the variety and notifies the vendor if High Mowing would like to trial the variety again or add it to the following year's seed catalog.
The Inherent Challenge of Organic
When asked what her biggest challenge is in her work in Trials at High Mowing, Taylor explained," Convincing seed vendors to start producing organic seed and/or licensing the material to be produced by others who are willing to do it organically and continuing these productions going forward." The global seed marketplace is a huge industry. It spans the world and seed vendors and companies have seed farms on many continents to capitalize on the unique growing conditions necessary to successfully grow out a wide variety of crop types. The organic seed marketplace is a small sliver of this global business and people like Taylor Maida are instrumental in pushing more seed vendors and companies to prioritize the development of organic varieties.
"I think it is important to find the best organic varieties that will reliably work for people that have good flavor and something special about them. Varieties that will make the grower excited about them compared to other material on the market. I want them to be encouraged to grow more and be excited about how each variety is so different. Whether it be how good it tastes, how well it stores, how well it holds up to disease, how slow it is to bolt, and/or how high-yielding it is."
Taylor not only feels that her work is important, she also just loves doing it. Getting to see so many different varieties and "geek out" about vegetables with other people brings her joy. Not only does she get to interact with the vegetables in her own trials, she gets to talk with people all over the world working towards the same goals. Also, think about it, she gets to taste-test everything High Mowing decides to trial. Taylor feels this work in her heart and like many growers feels the fulfillment that comes at harvest, "I love that harvesting vegetables makes me feel rich."
What's New in Organic Varieties
So what varieties are coming down the pipeline that are exciting to Taylor? Here's a sneak peak at some materials being worked on right now:
- "I am pretty excited about seeing these black radishes from a farm in Canada called Torne de Sol that are bright pink and bright purple inside. I have not grown anything like it so I’m curious to see how well they perform for us and what they taste like."
- "Based on results from last year. I am excited to trial Cubo Orange Pepper an open pollinated orange bell pepper that has been a stand-out from the past two years. It is extremely uniform, high-yielding, gorgeous and tasty!"
- "There is a pink winter squash, coming from Brent Loy at the University of New Hampshire that I can’t wait to trial again. It looks similar to Sunshine F1 in size and shape, but stores better and the flavor is just as good but the flesh is a little drier. It was surprisingly lovely."
- "Also, Shintokiwa Cucumber. This has been a favorite of the trials crew for several years now. It is a smooth-skinned, long cucumber with the best flavor and crunch."
- "I also can’t forget Supersonic F1 Summer Squash, that is very high-yielding, single stem and so much easier to harvest than other yellow summer squash varieties."
- "There are several tomatoes, many with late blight resistance and excellent flavor that I look forward to growing and tasting."
Nature As Inspiration
Outside of her work as the Trials Lead at High Mowing, Taylor is a friendly person with a great sense of humor who likes the color purple and hates ticks. She loves to garden and cook with her partner and sew and make ceramics. In the winter time she loves to ski and in the summer time she can be found in a canoe, always up for spending time on open water. Taylor is an avid nature enthusiast and finds that time spent in the natural world is constantly teaching her new things.
She feels that High Mowing's work is a means of extending these natural gifts of knowledge and understanding to growers across North America. "Our work is necessary and nourishes people both by providing sustenance but also gives them a deeper connection to the physical and natural world around them. It slows people down, forces them to be patient. It also requires people to be in tune and work with the natural cycles of things, the weather, pests, beneficial organisms and time."
While nature may be Taylor's source of hope, Taylor herself is a source of hope for all of us at High Mowing. We are grateful for her expertise and her enduring efforts to make the most resilient and delicious varieties available to organic growers. Next time you take a look through our catalog, see how many Taylor sightings you can have and also take note that each variety we offer is a result of her dedicated work and that of all of our amazing staff here at High Mowing.