Hosting field days to showcase the latest crop research has long been an outreach and education tool for researchers and educators. The University of Minnesota Forever Green Initiative (FGI) is no exception, having hosted a number of events through the years featuring Kernza®, pennycress, hazelnuts, and winter camelina. However, the advent of COVID-19 and restrictions on in-person events have required some quick thinking and creative action resulting in many events shifting to a virtual format.
One such event is the FGI Winter Annual Oilseeds Field Day– a collaborative effort between FGI and commercialization partner AURI (Agricultural Utilization Research Institute) that has traditionally been hosted at AURI’s southern campus in Waseca, Minnesota. Through the years, the organizers of the FGI Winter Annual Oilseed Field Day have created an interactive event that walks attendees into the field, runs the oil press equipment and serves food cooked on location by a professional chef. Attendees have tasted desserts made with Kernza®, elderberries and hazelnuts and enjoyed whole grain Kernza® salads drizzled with a vinaigrette made from hazelnut and camelina oil. The field day uses its platform to showcase the full breadth of Forever Green crop and cropping system research. The message to audiences is that Forever Green is more than just one crop — it’s a portfolio of crops and cropping systems intended to transform agriculture in Minnesota and that consumers have the opportunity to taste and experience it at these field days.
However, in April and with clear signs that COVID-19 was changing everything, the FGI Oilseed team made the decision to shift to a virtual field day. The oilseed team recognized that it was going to be a challenge to replicate the excitement and interaction of their past field days, but, they were up to the challenge!
The end result was a series of three consecutive webinars, each focused on one aspect of the oilseed research. The first was held May 26th and featured information on the breeding, ecological services and agronomics of winter annual oilseeds. The second ran on June 2nd and featured end-use applications and cooking demonstrations. The third and final ran on June 9th and featured a video tour of the Waseca oil pressing lab and interviews with industry representatives working with winter camelina and pennycress.
Although it’s impossible to serve food at a Virtual Field Day, organizers got as close to that experience as they could by filming and sharing two cooking demonstrations during the second session. The first cooking demonstration features James Beard award-winning cookbook author and chef, Beth Dooley. Dooley has worked with Kernza® for several years and will be featuring it in her upcoming cookbook. In this video, she shows viewers how to fry tortillas and potatoes with camelina oil and then finishes her segment by highlighting other Forever Green recipes including a biscotti made from Kernza®.
In the second demonstration, Dr. Scott Wells provides a tutorial on cooking a great plate of fried chicken, featuring Kernza® flour in the breading.
Although it’s always a pleasure to highlight research in person, the virtual field days have expanded the reach of Forever Green research. Attendance was strong for all three sessions, with viewers logging in from locations around the country and even a few from overseas! Both cooking videos and all three Oilseed Field Day sessions are posted on the Forever Green YouTube channel and continue to reach audiences through social media shares.