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What is an Heirloom?

Heirloom vegetables are colorful and delicious.

Heirloom Seed Sources
To get started in your garden adventures with heirloom plants, check out our listing of heirloom seed sources. Click to Continue 
An heirloom plant is defined simply as an open-pollinated cultivar that was commonly grown in earlier periods and has a history of being passed down within a family.

Heirlooms are not used in modern large-scale agriculture. An open-pollinated cultivar (as opposed to a hybrid) can be grown from seed and will reproduce true to type. In other words, the second generation of plants will look just like the first.

Because we are allowed to save the seeds of open-pollinated cultivars and plant them again the following season, we have the freedom and independence to produce—and reproduce—our own food year after year. In contrast, farmers growing commercial crops are required to purchase seed each year from the corporations holding the patents.

Growing heirloom plants is not done merely to preserve history, nor is it just romantic nostalgia.

  • Heirlooms’ wide diversity of types, colors, and flavors allows us to experience food in ways we’ve never known.

  • With heirloom vegetables, you get purple peppers; tomatoes in shades of green, pink, yellow, orange, and purple; white and red carrots; pink-striped eggplants and orange eggplants; round yellow cucumbers; and many other unusual combinations.

  • Heirlooms not only amuse the eye but also delight the palate with their sweet and succulent variety of vibrant tastes, unlike most of the varieties found in the supermarket, which tend to be bland and homogenous. The latter have been developed not for taste but for good looks and long shelf life so they can withstand the thousands of miles traveled before arriving at their final destinations.

What we now consider heirloom vegetables and fruit represent those specimens historically selected for superb flavor and intrinsic quality, the seeds of which have been saved and grown year after year.

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