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Heritage Seeds

Food Storage and Heritage Seeds

by Gary D. Palmer

Home gardeners have a natural interest in food storage, for often the goal of that gardening is to produce enough fruits and vegetables to be able to use fresh, to share with friends and family, and, of course, to store for future usage.  That’s where the juicers, and canners, and food dehydrators, and other such kitchen tools come into play. 

Naturally, you do not necessarily have to have a garden to preserve such foods.  Farmers’ Markets and supermarket specials can often be a perfectly acceptable source of the fresh produce that is needed in a food storage program.  Many people, in fact, choose just that option, and there can certainly be advantages to doing so.  On the other hand, there are also disadvantages. 

One of these lies in the fact that the home gardener can choose just exactly what is to be grown in that garden, and it is certainly possible to choose items that are not usually found in a supermarket.  That is especially true if the use of heritage plants and seeds is being considered. 

Market gardeners, who supply much of that supermarket food, not surprisingly, favor fruits and vegetables that travel well, that are attractive to the eye, that are relatively uniform in size and that do not spoil easily.  That means there are a few varieties that meet all these criteria and which are now immensely popular, making up the vast bulk of store stock.  Other once common types are now rarely seen, if they are seen at all. 

Commercial seed companies generally have greater choice for their gardening customers, but even here there may be some limitations.  It is not generally known, but most commercial seeds now come from large scale operations in Southeast Asia and South America, where they are harvested mechanically and sold through a wholesale seed network.  Profitability often depends on uniformity of size and ripening times, and factors such as superior flavor and regional suitability are considered but only secondarily. 

Heritage or heirloom seeds address this problem.  There is a growing movement to save endangered food plant species, which, for whatever reason, don’t fit in well with commercial programs.  In some cases it is too late.  Some garden plants simply no longer exist, but there are many once popular plant specimens which have been brought back from the verge of extinction.   

This has largely been accomplished by independent growers who have formed networks to save, propagate and share.  What may have begun as a trading system between these dedicated gardeners, has advanced to a stage, in at least some cases, where such heritage seeds are being advertised for sale.  They may be somewhat more expensive than the packets of tomato seeds and such-like that can be picked up for just a few cents in the local department store, but they may permit a rediscovery of varieties that just might be more flavorful and nutritious than the modern usurpers.  As a bonus, your purchase may assist in the financing of further efforts in the fight to preserve our horticultural heritage, and, who knows, you may even want to join the group. 

Your food storage program, of course, will also benefit.  You can carefully select and experiment with the growing of foods that will best suit your own family’s needs and desires.   

Beginning the process is quick and easy.  An Internet search will likely reveal a number of suitable sources for heirloom plants and seeds.

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