Monday, May 2, 2011

A Students' Questions

It is kind of neat to get an email from someone in high school asking about heirloom vegetables.  Here are the questions, and here are my answers!  

Hi Melissa,

It is a very busy time on the farm, so sorry I didn't get right back to you.
What made you choose to do a project on heirloom vegetables, and what subject are you doing it for? I'm just curious.
Here are my answers... and thanks for asking the questions and for your interest in heirlooms
On 2011-05-02, at 3:15 PM, ------- wrote:


I am doing a school project on heirloom vegetables and have to do a case study on a specific heirloom farm. So, I researched heirloom farms and found your farm. I was just wondering if you could answer a few questions that I would like include in my project. 

1. Why do you choose to grow heirloom vegetables rather then normal vegetables?

Heirloom vegetables once were the "normal " vegetables, and I think we have made a mistake getting away from them!  By normal, I think you mean hybrids / chemically grown. I choose to grow heirlooms for many reasons.  First, I believe they taste better, and there is a huge number of varieties to choose from.  Did you know there are more than 10,000 heirloom tomato varieties for example? 
As a farmer too, I can save seed from my vegetables and they grow "true to type"...that is, they are just what their parent plants were-they are  "open pollinated".   Hybrids are plants that are produced by cross pollinating different varieties.  When seed from these plants are saved, they revert back to one of the parent plants, or something completely different. As a grower it is important to me to be able to save my own seed...and I don't have to purchase seed from a seed company every year.
Diversity in our food crops is very important.  Because the Irish people depended on one variety of potato for their main food crop, when disease struck their potatoes, millions died in the Irish Potato Famine. If they had grown many varieties of potatoes, perhaps all the potatoes would not have been susceptible. 
2. Is growing heirloom vegetables a sustainable practice?

It can be, but that depends on the grower. If you are growing without the use of chemicals and using inputs for your crops that are produced on your own farm, like compost and manure, and saving your own seed to replant, then yes.  Without question, not all farmers growing heirlooms grow in this manner.

3. Is growing heirloom vegetables environmentally friendly?

Again, it can be.   But growing hybrids can be as well.  It depends on the growing methods used.

4. How does it impact Canada economiclly, socially, and environmentally?

It probably has minimal effect  in these areas.  Heirlooms and seed saving are a grass roots movement.  It is generally the business of small farmers and business owners, such as myself. Non profit organizations such as Seed Savers Exchange however are having a huge impact on how the worlds' home gardens grow and for creating a growing interest in the cause of diversity and the importance of preserving our vegetable past.  Big agriculture, with it's hybrids, chemicals and machinery certainly dominates and sadly has a huge impact environmentally.

5. What type of vegetables do you grow?

Heirloom tomatoes are my specialty - I grow probably around 700 varieties, but may have lost count !  But I also grow pretty much every other vegetable that you can think of, including some you may not know, like for example- tomatillos, jelly melons , cowpeas, agretti and spigiarello.
I won't tell you what these are...I'll give you a chance to look them up. But guaranteed, you won't find them in the grocery store. 

Hope this helps, and best of luck !

Thank you in advance for any information that you can send me to assist in my studies.

Thank you,Melissa

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