Tyler Mason loves vegetables. And he wants all of us to have better access to tastier, healthier options. Which is why he’s devoted his life to studying sustainable food production.
On Monday, his efforts were recognized by one of the culinary world’s most prestigious organizations. Mason is one of 10 recipients of the James Beard Foundation (JBF) National Scholars Program. The two-year-old initiative, part of JBF’s larger James Beard Foundation Scholarship Program, “awards scholarships of up to $20,000 to those who demonstrate the potential for leadership roles in culinary arts, food studies, agriculture, hospitality management, and related fields.”
Mason is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in horticulture at Colorado State University, where he’s focused on sustainable food production, quality, and distribution. “We’re trying to understand the difference between how crops grow in a conventional system and an organic system,” he says. In other words, identifying which vegetable varieties perform (grow and taste) best in an organic farming operation; the work is connected to the Northern Organic Vegetable Improvement Collaborative, a participatory plant breeding program. (Excess produce from these efforts will be donated to the Food Bank for Larimer County.) The Indiana native is also working to increase access to open-pollinated and certified organic seeds, which are often expensive for farmers.
The 29-year-old moved to Fort Collins from his post as horticulturist at Cheyenne Botanic Gardens in Wyoming. That’s where he “fell in love with urban horticulture” and discovered that he “wanted to spend [his] career helping growers produce better vegetables.”
The JBF scholarship will help with tuition so Mason can focus on his research. “I think it’s pretty incredible that not only are they interested in improving the culinary world,” Mason says of the JBF, “but they’re also interested in improving the ingredients that go into that.”
We’ll eat to that.