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The Educated Consumer: What Does Heirloom Mean?

Heirloom TomatoesThe word “heirloom” is often heard when speaking about varieties of fruits, vegetables and flowers found at farmer’s markets. But what does it mean? When you buy a “heirloom tomato” do you know why it is better than buying a regular vine-ripened tomato found at the grocery store? Well, you should. Heirloom varieties are grown from seeds that have been passed down through generations and have never been modified. These plants are grown using traditional gardening techniques, relying on open air pollination and cross-fertilization. With each yearly crop farmer’s take note of which plants seem to most resistant to disease, have the best taste and sturdy growth. They then save the seeds from these plants and use them again the following year. Selectively narrowing down their crops to yield the healthiest, natural version available. So, why does buying heirloom make a difference?

- Heirloom Fruits, Vegetables and Flowers are bred for flavor, beauty and disease resistance. They are carefully cultivated by farmer’s so that they can continue to be planted for generations. Buying heirloom varieties promotes genetic diversity and strength in plant species.

- Produce found in supermarkets is often grown from hybrid seeds that are modified to produced high-volumes of produce with little regard for taste. Hybrid seeds are often genetically modified and are sterile. They can not be passed down to generations and do little more than produce uniform bland produce with little nutritional value.

- Supporting heirloom varieties keeps bio-diversity alive. If farmer’s are not encouraged to practice heirloom farming tasty, environmentally friendly produce will quickly yield to bulk hybrid crops. Bio-diversity is not only good for the planet, it’s good for you, too. Imagine only have only 4 types of tomatoes available on the whole planet? That would be awful. By buying heirloom varieties we can guarantee the existence of thousands of cherished vegetables, fruits and plants long into the future.

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