Written by: Kirsten Hudson for Organic Authority
Handed down through generations, heirloom seeds offer a taste of the past. Often described as “open pollinated” seeds that have a long history, heirloom seeds can make for a diverse and downright gorgeous, organic garden. Like a family keepsake, these seeds offer something precious. Once planted, they’ll bloom into a one-of-a-kind fruit, vegetable, herb or flower that hasn’t been tainted by genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or pesticides.
Modern hybrids, which are created by crossing two selected varieties, often produce infertile plants. But heirlooms will yield the same plant year after year, which means you can always save the seeds for next year’s crop. Heirlooms also offer a connection with history. Essentially, you’ll be eating the same plump tomatoes that your ancestors enjoyed.
So, what else makes these vintage seeds inherently superior?
Many hybrid fruits and vegetables have been bred to produce more crop, or to resist certain diseases and insects. Unfortunately, these “features” often sacrifice taste in the process.
Plants from heirloom seeds weren’t designed to be carted across the country or hoarded in cold storage for weeks, like many commercially grown fruits and vegetables. Instead, heirlooms were carefully selected for their flavor. After all, who wants to go out to their backyard garden and pick a bunch of carrots that taste like cardboard?
And once you’ve tasted a juicy heirloom tomato, it’s unlikely you’ll ever think the same about a supermarket tomato again.
With heirlooms, taste and nutrition go together. You can’t get much fresher than just picked-off-the-vine or pulled-from-the-dirt fruits and veggies—and that means maximum nutrition.
Hybrids, however, have been bred for certain traits—such as producing higher yields—that sacrifice nutritional content in the process. The traits that make carrots, potatoes and other produce uniform in size and faster growing can also mean a lower quality food.
Heirloom fruits and veggies come in an all-out medley of kooky shapes, colors and textures. From deep red carrots to wonky-shaped tomatoes to bright pink bananas, you just can’t get the same fun variety from hybrid fruits and vegetables.
By choosing to plant heirloom seeds, you’re participating in a mission to diversify our food supply and preserve cultural history. As commercial growers increasingly opt to only plant a small variety of species, we’re losing genetic diversity in our seeds, and therefore our food. This can potentially compromise the nutritional value of our food, lead to issues with soil in farming and potential food blights. Couple that with the increasing GMOs introduced into our produce and it’s a potential recipe for disaster… convinced yet?
Several organizations offer GMO- and pesticide-free heirloom seeds. Browse their catalogs and get excited for this year’s garden!
Follow Kirsten on Twitter @kirsten_hudson
We just landed back in the West Coast after a two-week jaunt through the Mid West. Commencing our trip, was a stay with the man behind the scenes of Simple Good and Tasty, a wonderful blog about all things local, organic and cool. We were delighted to check out what is hip and happening in Minneapolis – from lake side eateries that tout local fare to late night bowling, all done by foot or bike … of course.
We then made our way to Decora, Iowa, all while cruising through some of the most ferocious storms I have ever seen. At one point, I was convinced we were going to see Dorothy flying through the wind! None the less, we arrived at our destination, Seed Savers Exchange (SSE) at Heritage Farm and what a beautiful place welcomed us! We arrived to an intimate meet and greet with delicious food, wonderful folk music and a serious down pour! We were there long enough to register, have a bite, listen to some wonderful folk music and meet another fellow Californian, K. Ruby Blume, co-author of Urban Homesteading. The theme for this year was gathering. A modest yet poignant word that describes what occurred that weekend, while adding homage to the book Gathering: Memoir of a Seed Saver by Diane Ott Whealy, co-founder of SSE.
After a goodnight rest at our hotel room, we were back on the farm bright and early to start a full day of keynotes, workshops, eating, hay rides, barn dances and of course memorable connections with other seed aficionados. I attended a two-part workshop on dry seed processing with Will Bonsall, one of the major curators of the Seed Savers Exchange collection. A fascinating and very entertaining workshop that involved demonstration and some serious humor with an open style forum, where other seed experts like Matthew Dillon, co-founder of Organic Seed Alliance were able to jump in and offer their brilliance.
One of the highlight keynotes was Woody Tasch of Slow Money, a man who deeply believes that if we believe in something, we should act on it. Tasch is the author and genius behind the concept of Slow Money: Investing As If Food, Farms and Fertility Mattered, borrowing from Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful: Economics as if People Mattered. A poised man with so much passion and engagement that I believe he left leaving the audience with such optimism for the world we are co-creating together. The Slow Money set of principles help put into perspective the importance of acting on what we believe in, while awakening biophilia in the hearts and minds.
Throughout the weekend we beat the high heat and scorching temperatures by submerging ourselves in the gorgeous stream that runs the property of SSE, giving us a sense of how sacred this land truly is! The momentum of the weekend continued to build as we learned, exchanged and connected with other incredible folks doing great work in the world such as Ira Wallace from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange and Carol Koury of Sow True Seed, among others.
Sunday morning we awakened with the call of the birds and joined other nature lovers for the 6:30 am Bird and Flower Walk, an amazing opportunity to hike the trails and taste the wild and uncultivated varieties growing within Heritage Farm.
Matthew Dillon began with a preacher’s salutation to begin and honor our last Sunday morning. It was another incredible keynote, taking us through an engaging oral history of seeds, the seed industry and of course his own path and bringing us back to the present, all while offering us a simple token of advice, live simply so others can live. He emphasized our need to see our food industry through the lens of a whole integrated eco-system, working with restorative agriculture, restorative seeds and restorative systems with our solutions laid in regional seed systems, succession, diversity and classical plant breeding.
We wrapped up an incredibly dynamic and powerful weekend in the most fashionable way possible, learning wet-seed processing with Suzanne Ashworth, author of the book Seed to Seed. A book that has been our seed-bible since the inception of our company. Little did we know what we were in store for, Suzanne is a hoot, she had the entire audience laughing the entire lecture! Within minutes she had Matthew as her personal assistant cutting up juicy watermelon and feeding it to the audience, all while teaching us the simple ways to wet processing!
Needless to say, that weekend was so powerful and strengthened our movement and our work as a collective. The seed industry has ebbed and flowed through its various moments in history and today we can all be assured that we are weaving a new pattern in our ever evolving tapestry!
* For the complete album of our trip to Seed Savers Exchange check out our Flickr account.
* We made it to the SSE editor’s letter check it out!
For more information on The Living Seed Company, check out our website.