The Importance of Heirloom Crop Varieties



Pictured: Varieties of heirloom onions, basil, cantaloupe, fennel, garlic, potatoes, salad turnips, poblanos, honey gold tomatoes, tomatoes, eggplant, zucchini, summer squash and radishes. Source: http://marthaandtom.com/2009/08/
Students helping to plan Cornucopia’s 2011 growing season have been making decisions on what crop varieties to plant. The seed market is overflowing with varieties that fit the values of Cornucopia. Cornucopia is organic with areas that are transitional organic; that means that organic, GMO-free, and untreated seeds are preferred. Another option for selection is choosing between heirloom varieties.

In the past, the farm has done heirloom varieties for many tomato plantings. Tomatoes seem to be the most common heirloom crop, especially here in the Midwest. An heirloom crop is usually described as being a seed that is saved and passed on through generations, often more than a hundred years old. Heirloom varieties have been saved for their unique qualities and traditions, as opposed to hybrid seeds, which are usually bred for consistent size, yield and appearance. 
The benefits of heirloom crops are numerous. The opportunity to increase and sustain biodiversity is always a perk for heirlooms, because it gets away from the limited varieties offered for hybrids. Heirloom varieties are believed to provide more nutrients that have been lost in the breeding processes of conventional crops. Since heirlooms are also genetically diverse, they can potentially lend greater resilience to a crop in case of disease or other disasters. Open pollination, meaning pollination occurs naturally, is another function that helps heirloom varieties increase resiliency, and it also enables growers to save their own seed and develop their own heirloom varieties if they choose. 
 Cornucopia can benefit from heirloom varieties, not only for the ecological benefits, but also in sales. Many customers are rightly intrigued by unique varieties that offer radiant colors and tastes. Heirloom varieties are a special treat that many food enthusiasts look forward to.
Megan Barr

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