Eat Your Heirlooms!?

In the veggie world, an heirloom is generally considered to be a variety of plant that has been passed down, through several generations of a family because of it’s valued characteristics. Heirlooms are open-pollinated, which means that they are pollinated by natural processes such as insects, birds, or wind. Heirlooms are generally varieties that were introduced before 1940, when hybridization was introduced. Hybridization utilizes controlled or “closed” pollination where specific parent plants are bred in a closed environment to produce specific plant offspring. The fruit of hybrid plants will not produce true to the plant, but instead will revert to a parent plant’s genetics.

The Importance of Heirlooms

In the past 40 years, we’ve lost many of our heirloom varieties, along with the many smaller family farms that supported heirlooms. Heirlooms that have spent centuries evolving to survive well in a variety of environmental conditions; adapting resistance to pests, diseases, and climate fluctuations have been lost or replaced by fewer hybrid tomato varieties, bred for their commercially attractive characteristics. In this process we are loosing genetic diversity at an accelerating and alarming rate. With the reduction in genetic diversity, food production is drastically at risk from plant epidemics and infestation by pests. The result is genetic erosion. It is up to us as responsible stewards of the earth to assure that we sustain the diversity afforded us through heirloom varieties, so feel good about eating your heirlooms!

 

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