Why don’t all the tomatoes look like this?
Because Adamah grows heirloom tomatoes! Click here to see all the different kinds.
What is an heirloom tomato?
An heirloom is generally considered to be a variety that has been passed down, through several generations of a family because of its valued characteristics. To be included in the definition of an heirloom plant, the short definition of an heirloom tomato is that it is an open-pollinated tomato plant, meaning that it is naturally pollinated by exposure to birds, insects and animals. Hybrid plants, the commercially grown tomatoes, do not always produce reliable, viable seeds due to the fact that some (if not most) of the crosses used to generate the plants were done artificially.
The more traditional tomatoes, those that are often seen in supermarkets and the majority of restaurants, have been bred to enhance certain characteristics besides flavor. For example, many have been selected for disease resistance or for having a slightly thicker skin, which makes them hold up better during shipping. Most of these conventional tomatoes are close to spherical and very red in color. Their flavor is ordinary, with little “wow” factor. Heirlooms have the “wow” factor. The reason that the particular plants have been grown for decades – in some cases, preserved by passing them from family member to family member – is that they taste great. And each variety tastes different.
The problem with heirloom tomatoes is that they are far more sensitive than the conventional tomatoes. They do not necessarily ship well, too delicate to be put into crates like the regular tomatoes can be, and the very sensitive crops can be greatly reduced when the weather is too wet, too dry, too hot or too cold. These are all factors that can influence the yield of a conventional tomato crop, but their bred-in hardiness allows them to stand up to some climactic variation more easily.
In the past 40 years, we’ve lost many of our heirloom varieties, along with the many smaller family farms that supported heirlooms. The multitude of heirlooms that had adapted to survive well for hundreds of years were lost or replaced by fewer hybrid tomatoes, bred for their commercially attractive characteristics. In the process we have also lost much of the ownership of foods typically grown by family gardeners and small farms, and we are loosing the genetic diversity at an accelerating and alarming rate.
Every heirloom variety is genetically unique and inherent in this uniqueness is an evolved resistance to pests and diseases and an adaptation to specific growing conditions and climates. With the reduction in genetic diversity, food production is drastically at risk from plant epidemics and infestation by pests. Call this genetic erosion.
The late Jack Harlan, world-renowned plant collector who wrote the classic Crops and Man while Professor of Plant Genetics at University of Illinois at Urbana, wrote, “These resources stand between us and catastrophic starvation on a scale we cannot imagine. In a very real sense, the future of the human race rides on these materials. The line between abundance and disaster is becoming thinner and thinner, and the public is unaware and unconcerned. Must we wait for disaster to be real before we are heard? Will people listen only after it is too late.” It is up to us as gardeners and responsible stewards of the earth to assure that we sustain the diversity afforded us through heirloom varieties.
This information was adapted from information at www.tomatofest.com and www.slashfood.com ingredient spotlight on heirlooms.