Star Tribune from Minneapolis, Minnesota on November 12, 2014 · Page E10
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Star Tribune from Minneapolis, Minnesota · Page E10

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Minneapolis, Minnesota
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Wednesday, November 12, 2014
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Page E10
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E10 • VARIETY • STAR TRIBUNE • WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2014 Bedford doesn’t do the job alone, he’s quick to point out, but as part of a team. He and Jim Luby, the horticultural science professor who directs the U’s fruit-breeding program, have been collaborating on apple selection for three decades. During their partnership, the program has released six new varieties: Honeycrisp; Zestar!; SnowSweet; Minneiska (better known by its brand name, SweeTango); Frostbite and most recently MN55, which has yet to be christened and won’t be available commercially for another several years. But Bedford is the guy who does the day-to-day cultivating, grafting and cloning and who personally tastes all those mediocre apples in hopes of finding “the next Honey- crisp, or something even better.” “He’s our front line, making the decisions about what gets thrown out,” said Luby. “And 99 percent gets thrown out.” Of the surviving 1 percent, Honey- crisp is the program’s rock star. Introduced in 1991, it’s now the sixth largest apple in production in the United States, according to Mark Seetin, director of regulatory and industry affairs for the U.S. Apple Association. Honeycrisp’s rapid rise is “extraordinary,” Seetin said. “It has exploded in the last five years. It’s a doggone good apple.” The U’s apple operation, one of the nation’s three major breeding programs , is more than a century old, with 27 apple introductions to its credit, but Honeycrisp put it on the map, in Jacobson’s opinion. “When they released Honeycrisp, they hit it out of the park.” Now Honeycrisp and its follow- up releases are major players in the state’s apple industry, said Charlie Johnson, president of the Minnesota Apple Growers Association and owner of Whistling Well Farm, near Afton . “If it wasn’t for the U’s breeding program, we wouldn’t be in business. The apples they’ve developed are really popular with consumers.” Honeycrisp, for example, “has the taste it’s supposed to have when it’s grown here. Consumers have figured that out and do try to buy from Minnesota growers.” Bedford didn’t breed the first Hon- eycrisp tree; that was done before he came to the U (apple-breeding is a decades-long process). But he and Luby rescued the apple from oblivion. “Here’s a little-known secret of Honeycrisp: It got thrown away by the original breeder — it had some winter injury,” Bedford said. That first tree was destroyed, but four clones survived. His first taste of the “explosively crisp” fruit left an indelible memory. “I’ve tasted millions of apples, and I can still remember my first Honey- crisp and my first SweeTango.” Bad apples Other apples evoke less fond memories. Bedford isn’t shy about trash- talking Red Delicious, the “pathetic” variety he grew up eating in North Carolina. The big red apples, tough of skin and mealy in texture, dominated the marketplace during his childhood and convinced him he didn’t care for apples. He remembers opening his metal lunchbox to “the overpowering smell of an overripe Red Delicious.” He couldn’t trade it away. “It was the lowest thing on the scale. And the lowest thing on Halloween was getting an apple, a Red Delicious.” But as a student at Wheaton College in Illinois, where he went to study biology — and experience snow — Bedford had an apple epiphany. A friend brought a bushel of Michigan apples and invited Bedford to try one. “It was crisp. That’s what I never had. Crisp and juicy. I ate half a bushel myself.” After college, Bedford worked at a nursery for a few years and found plants so fascinating that he decided to go back to school to study horticulture, earning his master’s degree from Colorado State. A prop agation job opened up at the U , and Bedford took it, intending to stay only a few years. But soon he got the opportunity to do some breeding, and he was hooked. “My universe just exploded — there was so much potential. I realized apples could be so much more.” Sweet and tart Sampling apples with Bedford is a bit like tasting wine with a sommelier. As he shares each slice, he points out apples that taste like cloves or cherry Lifesavers, fruit with floral notes or earthy, herbal undertones. He looks for 20 characteristics when sizing up apples, but some traits carry more weight than others. “Our priority is to make an apple that’s a memorable eating experience,” he said. Appearance is secondary. “Texture and flavor are the two most important things.” He learned that lesson through his own experiences as a grower and seller. He and his wife, Shilon, own a small orchard in Carver County. The apples grown there are now sold wholesale, but for years, Bedford sold them himself at the Minneapolis Farmer’s Market. “There’s no better school in the world,” he said. “Minnesotans are so polite. They rarely say, ‘That’s a terrible apple.’ But it became clear that what registers with people is texture and flavor. That’s seared into my brain.” To achieve that perfectly textured, flavorful apple, Bedford pairs different parent trees in pursuit of superior offspring. It’s always a long shot, but DNA testing has taken breeding a big step forward. “When I choose a parent, I now know what its genetic makeup is,” he said. MN55, the latest release, is the child of Honeycrisp and an Arkansas variety, resulting in an apple that tastes much like Honeycrisp but is more heat-tolerant and ripens earlier. Jacobson was convinced that MN55 was a winner when he spotted a red, ripe apple in his orchard in mid-August. “Holy cow! I ate it, and thought, ‘This is really something.’ ” He shared his enthusiasm with Bedford — who was his usual, laid- back self. “He just told me, ‘We’ve gotta do a little more testing on it.’ ” Bedford also was the voice of calm reassurance when nervous growers peppered him with questions during last year’s polar vortex, Jacobson said. “We hadn’t had a winter that cold since [Honeycrisp’s introduction], and people were asking, ‘Do you think these are going to make it?’ David said, ‘Everything should be OK, because of the genetics.’ He was right. He doesn’t get rattled. He knows his stuff.” Bedford, who turns 63 Wednesday, has no desire to retire anytime soon. “The intrigue, that last cross you made. It keeps you coming back,” he said. “We are nowhere near reaching the limit of how far we can go.” So he hopes to keep breeding apples — “as long as I’m physically able,” he said. Then he smiles. “If an apple a day keeps the doctor away, I’ll live forever.” Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784 Captain crunch ø APPLES from E1 David Bedford, research scientist and apple breeder for the University of Minnesota Home base: Bedford lives on a small farm in Carver County with his wife, Shilon . They have one young-adult daughter. Sideline: Together, the Bedfords run Black Ice, a dog-sled equipment business. “We both had a passion for dogs, and the business evolved out of that, ” he said. Fun fact: Bedford and his sled dogs appeared in the 1994 film “Iron Will, ” filmed near Duluth. “They were the villain dogs. They were big and burly. ” The name game: “It’s much easier to name a kid than an apple, ” said Bedford. Grateful for Granny: Bedford doesn’t love Granny Smith apples, but he believes the tart green fruit helped pave the way for new varieties that weren’t big and red. “We owe Granny Smith a debt of gratitude. It opened a crack in the door and broke the stranglehold of Red Delicious. ” Jokester: The scientist has a prankster side, known for hiding things that look like live animals in colleagues’ desks or planting a $20 bill in a row of strawberries. “He likes to play practical jokes on people, ” said his boss, Jim Luby. “Some can’t be repeated. ” KIM PALMER THE BEDFORD FILES Photos by REN É E JONES SCHNEIDER • reneejones@startribune.com Research scientist David Bedford ’s office — “world headquarters ” of the University of Minnesota’s apple-breeding program — is in a rustic building a few miles west of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. The program is one of three major apple-breeding operations in the country, and the coldest-climate program. Bedford sprayed an iodine solution on an apple to assess its ripeness before tasting. “The iodine reacts with the starch. The unripe ones will turn black, ” he said. He looks for 20 characteristics when sizing up apples. create essentially a pop-up den for a performer who was passing through town. “This is a first,” Carter said. The time frame was short; the project would have to be completed in just a couple of days, before Nov. 6, the date of the duo’s first concert. But the designers were game. “The whole idea of it was fun,” Carter said. “And who doesn’t love Garth Brooks?” Unlike many big-name performers with exhaustive backstage requirements, Brooks and Yearwood hadn’t asked for anything special, according to Katrina Jaeger, marketing manager for Target Center. “This was done by Target Center for them,” she said. “This is a really big deal for our venue. We wanted to create something unique and special.” The space — two rooms that can be opened into one — started out bare bones: concrete walls, black curtains and black and gray carpet tiles. During basketball games it’s used as a changing area for Crunch, the Tim- berwolves’ mascot. Although it has been dressed up for other events, Jaeger said, it’s never before gotten a complete designer makeover. “We’ve done a lot of different things for different performers, but we’ve never used a staging company to come in and transform a space,” she said. Carter and Sternberg, who were given free creative rein, came up with an “urban country” look. The furni- ture, which was pulled from their staging inventory, is clean-lined and contemporary, while accent pieces are more rustic. The color palette of browns, creams and grays was inspired by a pair of decorative yak horns that the designers rented from Ciel Loft & Home in St. Louis Park. “It’s a little shop with creative, cool things you don’t find anywhere else,” Carter said. Cowhide pillows, faux-fur throws and decorative metal panels add to the rustic chic vibe. To personalize a space for people she’d never met, Carter turned to the Internet. “I googled to try to find out what he [Brooks] likes. I couldn’t find anything in particular. He’s not like some stars with long lists of demands. … I know he likes baseball.” So she stocked the coffee table with books about the sport, Target Field — and Johnny Cash. Brooks is using his first initial, lowercase, as a tour logo, so Carter and Sternberg found a similar “g” to display as artwork, along with a “T” for Trisha. Other artwork, sepia-toned prints of rural images, such as barns and cows, were produced by Target Center. “They said, ‘We’re making them different sizes and you’re welcome to use them in the design,’ ” Carter said. “They really fit in with what we wanted to do.” The designers didn’t get to meet Brooks or Yearwood, but they do plan to attend the singers’ show on Friday. They’ve heard through the grapevine that the couple were pleased with their little refuge. “They seemed honestly surprised to see a space uniquely created for them,” Jaeger said. In a news conference to kick off the Twin Cities concert series, Yearwood thanked “whoever made us feel so welcome” at Target Center. “This place turned into Garth and Tricia Central backstage,” she told reporters, while Brooks took note of “all the Gs.” Carter, who watched the news conference online, heard the shout-out. “I hope our space had something to do with it.” Kim Palmer • 612-673-4784 A home away from home for country stars Garth and Trisha ø GARTH from E1 MITCH NEWHOUSE • Target Center Stacy Sternberg and Jacquelyn Carter of Renewing Spaces designed the backstage space for Brooks and Yearwood with a rustic chic vibe.

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