Because they are the tastiest always! That’s the short answer, the long answer is more complicated. Once upon a time all vegetables were heirloom – the definition is simply varieties of fruits and vegetables where the seed is viable and true to type (with some genetic diversity) and passed down through the generations human to human. Heirloom implies traditional, old, heritage and something you’d likely find everywhere if you went back in history 60 years. Today, heirlooms are making a big comeback – they are finally trendy! They tend to have a ton of flavor, come in odd shapes and not look at all like anything you typically see in a grocery store. The downside of an heirloom is it’s lack of shelf life. No big deal if you shop at a farmers market or grow your own garden, but if you shop regularly at a grocery store you are unlikely to find an heirloom anywhere.
Thank goodness heirlooms are making a comeback and becoming more of a household word! Up to 90% of diversity within food crops has been lost since the turn of the last century replaced by one variety of corn, one variety of cucumber, one variety of tomato and so forth. With the resurgence of interest and the return of a discerning palate heirlooms are out of danger for now. If you are interested in learning and growing heirlooms you’ll want to know about the amazing work of Seed Saver’s Exchange in Iowa. They have literally rescued thousands of varieties of endangered seeds and making them available to the public. Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company is another entrepreneurial business venture that began for Jeri Gettle in his bedroom when he was a teenager. They sell thousands of seeds from all over the world and hosts the National Heirloom Festival in Santa Rosa every year.
We were blessed to have moved in next door to Italian market gardeners that operated at the turn of the 20th century up until the late 1970s. They were famous for their onions and tomatoes and that legacy continues today. We are very proud to continue growing these two local heirlooms – the red Camay tomato and the sweet red onion. Both of which are available now at our farm stand and through our CSA.