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Beckster17 -- I've been intriqued by this question and have continued my personal education of the topic of heirloom since my last post. While I was on the right track with my understanding of heirloom foods, I see now my understanding was very simplistic. There is indeed a very rich tradition of non-hybrid seed propogation although this can and does occur commercially, and the varieties that are indeed making a comeback in popularity, in addition to culinary diversity and unique nutritional features, do provide a bank of genetic diversity. True heirloom varieties may not be as exploitable for commercial purposes for different reasons, lack of uniformity, shelf life, yield, and disease susceptibility, so I can understand why they are not commonly found in groceries and why marketibility would be largely confined to direct marketing and consumption. But I am learning to see the value of a thriving heirloom market. I appreciate this question.
Will correct myself. I visited a farmer's market this weekend and did observe some of the venders advertising heirloom produce, usually heirloom tomatoes. None of the produce was labeled by the actual name of the variety, but when I asked about the tomato varieties specifically, a couple were familiar to me. None told me that the variety was non-commercial seed they had developed on their own. When asked if they have always planted heirloom varieties, a couple answered yes, a couple answered that they had added heirloom varieties recently. None indicated they planted only heirlooms and only one vender said the tomatoes they had for sale that day were exclusively heirloom. I asked a vender who didn't claim heirloom produce what variety his tomatoes were and found out his are a variety developed particularly for commercial greenhouse operations and not heirloom. The farmers market is only a portion of their sales, they also supply grocers, and that these customers preferred more modern commercial variety for improved shelf life and better for handling. They did not look as appetizing.
I would add that one of the biggest negative characteristics of many, but indeed not all, of the heirloom tomato varieties I have tried is shorter shelf life. I.e. a much shorter period between when you pick them to the time they spoil, so less time to eat them before they go to waste. Because I have little room for a garden, I have to get as much as I can from a handful of plants. The longer shelf life of the better boys means I have longer time to accumulate tomatoes to have enuff to can. My heirloom varieties are more likely to be the table tamoatoes, i.e. the ones that I eat raw in salads, sandwiches, or just as raw tomatoes.
Needs the Truth -- just wondering what definition of heirloom we are working from. Using tomatoes for example, when you go to the gardening stores and greenhouses to buy seeds and sets, increasingly, there are "heirloom' varieties to choose from, in addition to the more modern varieties, "better boy", "celebrity", etc. that have been improved largely by crossbreeding and largely for superior disease and stress resistance. In this case, "heirloom" refers to commonly available varieties developed 50 years or more ago, whether by seed companies, public research bodies or private entrepreneurs. These varieties are not as common today because they have been superceded by newer varieties that are perceived as superior in ways of value to the grower and consumer, although some newer varieties may have heirloom ancestry. I normally plant a combination of newer varieties in my own garden, but always select a couple heirloom varieties as well, this year, Marglobe. In my experience, the heirlooms often have advantages in taste and some cooking qualities, but they are less productive and do suffer from wilts more readily and extensively. It is probably not a practice for retailers, whether groceries, farmers market venders, CSAs to display the variety of the tomato. If you ask at the farmers market they may likely tell you what they plant, although the tomatoes they offer are not necessarily heirloom . Heres a link to a garden store in South Dakota that lists a number of heirloom varieties you can buy. http://www.normsgreenhouseandnursery.com/.
If by heirloom, you mean genetically distinct races of non-commercial seed resulting from individual farmers selecting seed from superior performing plants from year-to-year, then that practice has been largely abandoned in commercial production, although hobbyist and perhaps some ethnic groups continue the heirloom tradition. I would imagine very few farmers market venders offer this type of heirloom produce. An agricultural system reliant on heirlooming has its advantages - probably the most prominent being the lack of input costs to purchase seed, and a bank of genetic diversity. Heirlooming has its opportunity costs -- income foregone from not being able to sell the seed necessary to save for planting, risks of storage loss to pests and molds and moisture, costs of cleaning and preparation. By far the biggest opportunity cost is foregoing the more rapid advancements in improvements in yield and other characteristics that are available through other methods. I would venture that this type of seed saving heirlooming becomes less practical or economical as farmers transition from subsistence to commercial production.
@NeedsTheTruth, your local produce farmers no doubt are raising and selling heirloom vegetables. Find a good local produce farmer and frequent them instead of the grocery store.
wall of text + picture = monsanto employee paid to protect their name. give answers please, stop bullshitting. thanx
/sigh generic answers that still dont answer the question. i just went to the grocery store, there are 4 of them in my area, none sell heirloom, xcept for tomatoes. why is it impossible to find these "growing" seeds that i only recently learnt even existed. why am i deprived of this, if it is so easily accessible?
Modern day conventional (post green revolution) farmers are lazy and under contract to not save seed if using GMO tech. They are not allowed to save GMO seeds under contract.
The modern monoculture farmers use chemicals and machines to increase output, which means more money. They then buy seeds again because they cannot save seeds per IP law/contract.
The practices of using/saving heirloom seeds are foreign to most farmers with thousands of acres because of money and time. They will not invest the money for this practice, and it's easier to rely on GMO products for them to make the most money.
then why is it impossible to find heirloom foods
Beckster 17: Can you point us to information/data that substantiates the inference in your question that the practice of harvesting and saving of seeds was a predominant practice of farmers in this country. My father was a seed salesman for Pioneer for twenty year who retired about the time biotech traits were first offered. Seed saving was possible but only rarely practiced for soybeans. Of course, a farmer would only purchase new soybean seed each year if the hybrid varieties developed provided an advantages such as improved yield, disease or other stress tolerance that justified the cost of purchasing seed producer over saving seed. Seed saving was more common for wheat, and is still practiced today, but even then producers frequently purchase newly certified seed varieties, and as new varieties prove superior will abandon old varieties to begin with newer ones. For corn, saving seed for replanting has been largely archaic for nearly 70 years since the hybrid varieties lose their hybrid vigor and dessegrigate into parental plant varieties. I grew up in a farming community and never observed farmers using and saving seed from heirloom corn races.
This is not a GMO issue per se. Crop diversity has been dropping for decades as improved varieties have replaced local strains. This got rolling with some seriousness when hybred corn came along and continued into the GMO era. Veggie seeds have seen similar trends. Many heirloom types are still sold commercially for specialty markets, but even the organic guys I know tend to use mostly newer improved varieties for their yield advantages, disease resistance etc. The good news is that as more crop genomes are sequenced, older varieties are being looked at for unique traits which may be of value for GM breeding and marker assisted breeding programs. There is also a thriving hobby trade in heirloom seeds, look up the Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa.
There are tens of thousands of seed varieties for sale today. GM seeds varieties are but only ~150. GM seeds do not threaten heirloom seeds.
The establishment is harvesting. They have been putting seeds in a deep freeze in Norwegian ice caves. The establishment knows what it is doing against the people