Why You Should Choose Heirloom Vegetables
Centering your meals around seasonal, heirloom vegetables is an incredible way to add variety to your everyday menus. An heirloom vegetable is a variety that is at least 50 years old and grown from seeds passed down through several generations of growers. One key characteristic of heirloom vegetables is that they are open-pollinated, which means pollination happens naturally without outside assistance and relies on natural pollination from insects and the wind. If you are a member of a local farm's CSA program, visit a nearby farmer's market, or are a patron of a trendy farm-to-table restaurant, you are probably already aware of the whimsical uniqueness heirloom varietals offer. The crunchy, crisp stalks of Purple Passion Asparagus, the tender, mild flesh within the bulb of an Azur Star Kohlrabi, the sweet stripes of a fresh Pink Bumblebee Tomato... each of these characteristics detail a rich old-world charm and disguise delicate nuanced flavors. These flavors, cultivated by talented farmers and gardeners generation after generation, elevate dishes with a deep and distinct heritage and offer so many benefits for our community.
Encourages Sustainability and Biodiversity
Heirloom varietals are charmingly imperfect and encourage biodiversity and variety in our food choices. Much of the produce you will find stocked on a supermarket shelf is selectively grown by farmers because of its ability to resist disease, its uniformity in appearance, and its capacity to withstand hundreds of miles of transport. Today's modern agriculture only chooses to grow a few specialized breeds, which is why you do not see variety in your selection. Unlike these limited varieties, heirloom vegetables are grown for their elevated flavor, captivating color and reputable hardiness. Supporting the small-scale farming operations that are choosing heirloom seeds and dedicating their craft to preserving heirloom varietals helps create a food system that is based on genetic biodiversity. It also helps support a sustainable food system that cannot be endangered by a disease due to the lack of diversity among crop varieties.
Creates a New Culture around Food
In Dan Barber's book, The Third Plate, he tells the story of the New England Eight Row Flint corn seed and how its rich, creamy flavor was almost lost. Native Americans cultivated this variety hundreds of years ago and once the grain was exported to Italy, it became the coveted corn for the most flavorful polenta. As agriculture became more industrial, farmers chose other higher yielding corn varieties and quickly began phasing the Eight Row Flint corn out of their crop plans. A grain enthusiast, Glenn Roberts, understood the story of this once cherished variety and decided to send an unusual package to Dan Barber, inside two ears of Eight Row Flint corn and a note. Barber, who shared the same enthusiasm for reviving heirloom varietals as Roberts, convinced his team at Blue Stone Farm to grow the corn. He now serves polenta featuring Eight Row Flint corn at his Blue Hill restaurant and the public is able to experience a flavor that was almost forgotten. Preserving heirloom varietals creates a new culture around food that is based on conscious decisions about how our food is grown and steeped in a rich heritage of traditional farming.
Supports Small, Sustainable Farms
Heirloom tomatoes are not considered economical for mass production because they do not produce as many tomatoes per plant and they do not do well with harvesting machines. However, heirloom tomatoes are rich in flavor and nutrients and offer a better tasting experience when compared to the commercially grown tomatoes. If you are lucky enough to experience the true, sweet taste of an heirloom tomato harvested directly from the vine after slowly maturing in mineral-rich soil and warm sunshine, it will have come from a small-scale farming operation that has chosen heirloom seeds for quality over quantity. Typically provided through a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program or a local farmer's market, heirloom vegetables offer a chance for members of the community to connect with the small-scale farming operations within the area and begin to understand the value of this relationship. By making a conscious decision to eat heirloom vegetables, our community can help support the small, sustainable farms within our region and build a sustainable food system that is focused on preserving the rich heritage of growing food with intention.