Man in a greenhouse with small, green plants.
Postdoctoral researcher Travis Parker has received a $20,000 grant to develop varieties of beans that are beautiful, delicious, good for organic farmers and thrive in arid conditions, from the Organic Farming Research Foundation and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. Photo by Claudia Canales.

Parker’s proposal: More beans with less water

Grant funds research for organic beauties

Boutique chefs will be pleased.

Organic legumes already developed by postdoctoral researcher Travis Parker are prized, especially in Southwest cuisine, for their colorful patterns, flavor and texture. Parker’s new work seeks even better, more beautiful beans for arid climes. The Department of Plant Sciences geneticist has received a boost for his work with a $20,000 grant, funded jointly by the Organic Farming Research Foundation and the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research.

Practical considerations figure as well as culinary perks. High-quality protein from legumes offers an important pathway toward food security as population grows, while lowering greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. In addition, some legumes can grow well in warm, dry lands. Parker has been seeking the complex, genetic traits in these gorgeous little powerhouses that allow them to do that under organic farming conditions, while resisting disease and yielding abundantly. Already, he has developed and released six varieties, bred specifically for the needs of organic farmers.

Beans with different patterns and colors, including red, black, white and yellow.
Parker is passionate about developing beautiful beans, which are prized by chefs in the American Southwest and elsewhere. Photo by Travis Parker.

This new grant allows him to test varieties that need even less water – a bonus as climate change makes drought more common and more severe around the world. “We’ve developed new varieties and are planting them in the field to see how productive they are in arid conditions,” Parker explained. “We want to see how much they can produce, given a certain amount of water, space and soil nutrients.”

Chefs will pay more for varieties that have unique patterns, and some have a regional history and big followings. Such varieties fetch a higher price for growers.

“We’re trying to figure out how to make those seed patterns, and what genetically is responsible for that,” Parker added.

Legume project part of ‘pioneering’ research

Parker’s project is among six funded jointly by the Organic Farming Research Foundation and the Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research. The on-farm projects seek science-based solutions to the most pressing challenges facing organic farmers and ranchers today, with a total of $119,817 in grants this year.

“The ongoing partnership between OFRF and FFAR funds pioneering research that enables organic producers, and others wishing to farm more sustainably, to implement management practices that optimize nutrients and improve soil health while addressing weeds, pests and disease,” said organization representatives when announcing the award.

Related links

You can buy Parker's prizes at Underground Seed Co. Look for UC Southwest Gold and UC Southwest Red.

Media Resources

Trina Kleist,, (530) 754-6148 or (530) 601-6846

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Organic farming