Information about my work at the University of Wisconsin-Madison
I was hired in 1992 to conduct research and instruction in plant breeding and plant genetics and horticulture, and I have been carrying out those responsibilities for the last 27 years. I worked in various administrative roles in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences from 2004-2010 and served as chair of the Department of Horticulture from 2011-2018. I regularly teach courses in vegetable crops (fall semester), plants and human wellbeing (fall semester), and evolutionary biology (fall semester), and indigenous foodways (spring semester) in addition to advising graduate and undergraduate students.
Our research program focuses on vegetable breeding and genetics with an emphasis on plant secondary metabolites that have some potential value for human health and wellbeing. We have also bred numerous inbred lines that have been used to make commercial hybrids. These are grown by farmers throughout the world. A portion of our germplasm is licensed through WARF and returns royalties to our program. We currently have over 75 active germplasm licenses from all three of our crops.
My family came to the US in the early 20th century from Eastern Europe. They settled in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Illinois. My maternal grandparents had a grocery store and my paternal grandfather had a laundry business. It is a testament to the freedoms in this country that, through public education and opportunity, one can pursue their dreams. I am a fortunate beneficiary of these opportunities and of the guidance from many people throughout my life.
I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. My parents supported and encouraged my participation in outdoor activities of all kinds, and through them I first learned about the natural world. They took us to farms in Wisconsin and Michigan, to the great lakes, to the Niagara escarpment, and to many destinations in the city: concerts, plays, libraries, museums, and to visit family. The father of my lifelong friend Andy Gremley took us on wilderness trips around the country beginning at about age 12. Robert “Rollfast” Gremley was a huge influence on our thinking about the differences between the natural and human-built worlds, and he challenged us to think about the fate of natural environments. He also played us folk music and jazz. Two of our junior high school teachers, Tim Olson and Peter Bodi, took us on long bicycle trips on weekends, and we combined our interest in physical activity and the outdoors.
I attended college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. There I learned about plant science and, through the help of my academic adivsor Darrell Miller, got a job in a soybean breeding program that was run by Cecil Nickell. It was there that I was exposed to plant breeding as a scientific field and I became fascinated with the subject. I took Bob Lambert’s plant breeding class and was hooked. From Illinois I went to North Carolina State University’s Department of Crop Science to study with Tommy Carter, and I completed a Master’s degree there under his direction. I returned to the midwest and the University of Wisconsin Department of Agronomy for my doctoral work, under the direction of Earl Gritton. I had always been interested in evolution and natural selection, and it was at Wisconsin that I developed a much better understanding of these subjects and their relationship to plant breeding. I moved to the University of Illinois to do postdoctoral work with Torbert Rocheford, and I was fortunate to be able to work on the Illinois Long Term Selection strains while there. As I began my faculty position at Wisconsin in 1992, I completed a BARD fellowship on tomato genetics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in Rehovot, Israel, working with Dani Zamir and Ilan Paran.