It’s not unusual to find Taylor Maida, High Mowing’s Trials Lead, at her desk in the High Mowing warehouse, recording, analyzing and sharing data about specific vegetable varieties. But more often than not, she and her Trials team of Monique Gerbex and Katie Weller are out in one of the greenhouses or the Trials fields carefully tending to and recording the traits of a seemingly infinite number of vegetable, herb and flower varieties that High Mowing will consider adding to the company’s annual catalog.

Despite the desk work that is required in the High Mowing Trials program, Taylor, Monique and Katie are drawn to this work because they love growing. They’re out in the fields in good weather and in bad, weeding, transplanting, harvesting and fighting diseases and pests. So what’s the difference with trials work? “There are a lot more details to keep track of,” says Taylor. “We are more researchers than anything else. Our goal is to collect data and gather information on how the varieties compare and perform. We are looking for standout varieties in flavor, texture, yield and disease resistances. It’s exciting when there is a clear standout.”

When asked for specifics about outstanding performers, Taylor says, “There are a lot of favorites! Sat 202 was one of the most recent.” What’s Sat 202? It is the breeding line from the Swiss biodynamic seed company Sativa that is now High Mowing’s newest storage carrot, Dolciva. High Mowing’s founder, Tom Stearns, was invited to get a first look at the breeding line. The Trials team then grew it out for evaluations. “I’ve grown Dolciva for a couple of years. We looked at before it had a name – so, to me, it’s not Dolciva; it will always be Sat 202.” Dolciva really stands out in storage. It out-performed its competitors by getting sweeter in storage and holding a good, crisp texture. This type of product development is another part of the Trials work that Taylor is drawn to: “I love understanding the origin of the seed and developing a relationship with the individual breeders.”

Taylor has been leading the Trials program at High Mowing for the past four growing seasons.

Taylor, Monique and Katie are all heading into their fifth season at High Mowing. Monique agrees that her work with the Trials program has deeply informed her understanding of different varieties’ characteristics. She now grows several High Mowing varieties that are personal favorites in her own garden: “Lettuces like Lovelock and Pirat, the Bartelly and Montesino tomatoes, I never would have discovered them without working in Trials. And I grow my own garlic now, too - Music. I never grew my own garlic before.”

Katie has moved from working on High Mowing’s seed production farm the last four seasons to working with the Trials team for the first time this year. She is also the Breeding Specialist, assisting the head breeder, Dr. Jodi Lew-Smith, with High Mowing’s in-house breeding program. “I’m looking forward to really learning the different characteristics of the varieties we are trialing,” Katie says. “Both seed production and trials are so different from traditional farm models – from the importance of aesthetics to the way you treat the crops. For trials, the perspective is different from market growing because the outcome is information instead of vegetables.”

Monique evaluates the crops she helps grow in the Trials field to determine uniformity and performance.

That outcome, the information, is a very important part of High Mowing’s operations. When Taylor, Monique, and Katie assess the success rates of their crops objectively, it directly informs the seed offerings that High Mowing brings its growers.  Plus, when the results are shared with the rest of the staff at High Mowing, it informs our knowledge and gives us concrete reasons to talk about why certain varieties are preferable to others. Of course, sometimes the results can create strong differences of opinion. Like with choosing favorites for the most flavorful winter squash: Monique says she loves the unique butternut variety, Honeynut – Taylor’s jaw drops and she shakes her head in disbelief when she hears that. (Taylor’s favorite winter squash is a variety High Mowing hasn’t been able to add to its catalog yet – but we’ll keep you posted!)

Despite the unique challenges that are a part of working with the Trials program, farming with a seed company is rewarding for the Trials crew. “Seeds are exciting because they encourage others to engage in the process of growing their own food,” says Taylor. “High Mowing isn’t just growing for ourselves or one other person; we’re growing for all types of growers, farmers and gardeners who are all growing for others or themselves.”

Over the years, Katie has worked in seed production, breeding and trials work at High Mowing.

Katie agrees, “I have always wanted to live a fulfilling life, to engage with the world around me. Farming for seed is rewarding in that way – not only is the work fulfilling on a personal level, but it also connects us to the farming community. The knowledge we gain by trialing varieties allows growers to make informed decisions.”

“Tending to these plants every season, it is like watching your babies grow up,” says Monique. “Being close to them and working outside are my favorite parts of my job.” And she echoes Katie – there’s something special about growing for seed: “I see seeds as a metaphor for my life. They are at the core of each beginning. If I want to see change in my world, it’s up to me to ‘be the seed’ and initiate that change.”