Horticulture student awarded James Beard Foundation National Scholarship

Tyler Mason

The thunderstorms that frequent Colorado afternoons in August are often welcomed relief. But for Tyler Mason, those thunderstorms have the potential to alter the data generated from months of cultivation.

Mason, a doctoral student in the Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture, started a research project in January that focuses on specialty crops.

“My interest in specialty crops is mainly focused on sustainably produced and certified organic vegetable crop systems,” Mason said. “And what I want to do with that is serve as a state vegetable crop extension specialist.”

Mason plans to help small and local growers identify problems that may take place within their cropping systems.

“Organic growers are currently limited by the number of seed sources that are certified organic compared to conventionally-produced see; which has fewer restrictions for how they can grow a seed crop,” he said. “The problem is what’s suited for one geographic environment may not be appropriate for others.”

Mason was awarded the James Beard Foundation (JBF) National Scholarship — one of 10 high-impact $20,000 scholarships in the U.S. in 2017. CropsHe is using the JBF National Scholarship to help fund his project, which is part of a larger collaboration with the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative (NOVIC). That collaborative involves a series of northern-climate universities performing research to improve the seed source for organic vegetable producers. These universities are unique because they have advanced breeding programs that select and cross parental vegetable lines that can create new, unique hybrid and other breeding lines. These crosses will be used to increase the availability of seed genetics, adapted to local conditions, to organic growers.

Mason wants to help expand the availability of certified organic seeds. He is doing so by identifying which “cultivars”, a cultivated plant variety produced by selective breeding, performs best when tested under certified organic conditions.

He said one thing that may have contributed to him winning the James Beard Foundation scholarship is his commitment to helping growers provide delicious and sustainably produced vegetables for consumers.

The Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture is in the College of Agricultural Sciences.