Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Heirloom Seeds and Plants: Preserving State Food Traditions

[Note: This post, prepared originally for the NC Folklife Institute's NCFood blog, is hosted on the institute’s website, with excerpts and a link to the website posted here.] 

            Do you wish that you could grow the same vegetables that Grandma grew? The flavors that she tasted and the nutrients that she enjoyed are legendary, and many of us reminisce about how we miss the flavors of yesteryear. Because this desire to appreciate traditional foods is growing, a cultural movement to preserve heirloom seeds and plants has slowly but increasingly developed in our state. Efforts in the western counties, in particular, are significant.

Plants are grown for heirloom seed
production on farms in the South.
            To understand this trend, we first have to appreciate the difference between heirloom vegetables and their modern hybrids. Although many heirlooms date back more than 100 years, gardeners typically consider any plant introduced prior to 1951 (the year of the first hybridized plants) to be an heirloom variety. However, some date back centuries to the cultures of American Indians, and others can be traced to ancestral countries in Europe and Africa.

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