Sunday, August 18, 2013

Why Heirlooms?

With lots of heirloom tomatoes lovingly picked and packed off to the farmers' markets I went this past week.  It was our first week with volume enough to take to all four markets.  It's like the most awesome easter egg hunt/scavenger hunt/hide-and-go-seek experience picking these tomatoes.  Don't get me wrong - there are a ton of heirloom veggies out there but it seems like tomatoes get the most lovin'.  I grew a number of heirloom items besides tomatoes and can't wait to expand that heirloom offering next year. 

I was surprised to get as many questions as I did about the tomatoes.  Here's a little sampling of the most common inquiries....

Why should I buy heirlooms?
How is something classified as Heirloom?
and lastly....and my favorite....Why do they cost more money?

So here we go...Answers:

Why Heirlooms:

"In the past 40 years, we've lost many of our heirloom varieties, along with the many smaller family farms that supported heirlooms. The multitude of heirlooms that had adapted to survive well for hundreds of years were lost or replaced by fewer hybrid tomatoes, bred for their commercially attractive characteristics.

In the process we have also lost much of the ownership of foods typically grown by family gardeners and small farms, and we are loosing the genetic diversity at an accelerating and alarming rate." TomatoFest Website

On a personal note: a big reason for heirlooms is not only because they are important to our food system - they are a special part of cultivating joy and anticipation though out the growing season.  I think it is easy to get stuck in the rut of all growing the same things.  It works.  People buy it. But there's no sparkle in their eye when they buy a green bell pepper.  Yawn! 

I believe you need to be excited and inspired by your food in order to make healthy choices.  Nothing is more inspiring than bright colors, odd shapes, and varieties you never knew existed.  I mean look at me I take thousands of pictures of the stuff I grow because I'm obsessed with the bright colors, odd shapes, etc. etc. (Side note: one of my dreams is to shoot for a seed catalog).

What Makes it an "heirloom"?

Most people agree that an "heirloom vegetable" comes from a variety that was introduced prior to 1951.  After 1951 was the time that hybrid seed was introduced which produces plants for production: uniform, ready to be harvested at the same time, able to shipped here and there...etc.

Why Do They Cost More?
Heirlooms are usually more delicate.  When it comes to tomatoes they have half the shelf life and 1/8 the travel life of a regular tomato.  Also the plants tend to have lower yield than your "regular" tomatoes...but man, are the rewards great!

Great flavor, great to look at...they're a conversation piece.  It's crazy what a different experience it is in the field.  When I pick standard red tomatoes there's not too much excitement (except for me thanking God every 2.5 seconds that I have any tomatoes at all after all that rain).  With the heirlooms each one is different and has it's own sassy personality.

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