By: Matt Kokenes
The battle rages on between these plants, each touting their desirable assets over the other. The Heirloom, a traditionalist, the Hybrid, a scientist, the GMO, a dog crossed with a toucan.
Who would you root for?
If you have to ask, you already have your answer. The convolution of the matter is a result of human nature’s constant obsession with tinkering. Despite their excited claims of higher-yielding, insect-resistant super plants, hybrid seed companies and GMO (Genetically Modified Organism) producers are perhaps planting an even bigger seed of doubt. Did something go horribly wrong with heirloom seeds? No. As a result, many kitchen gardeners or concerned consumers find themselves in a cloud of confusion when standing in front of a seed display rack.
Heirloom seeds, as their name implies, have a history. Just like your grandfather’s heirloom harmonica or your great-grandmother’s recipe box, heirloom seeds were saved because of their legacy. Due to their superior taste and quality, they were hand-picked and passed down, from generation to generation. Sounds like a pretty reliable method of doing things if you ask me.
Another important aspect of heirloom seeds is that they are open pollinators which means they are pollinated by agents of nature such as insects, birds, and wind. Hybrids are not. Hybrid seeds and GMOs require a technician, a laboratory, and an operating table. Here is where human manipulation, as personified by Prometheus, arrives at the party uninvited. There are just too many unknowns to claim that splicing genes in an ever more elaborate attempt to outfox nature, is a “Healthy choice at a great price!”
Open pollination is the magic behind the wide variety of genetic traits present in heirloom plants. This variety makes them flexible genetically, allowing them to better adapt and fit into local ecosystems. Over time, productivity and resistance improve noticeably through organic means. GMOs are the polar opposite of heirlooms, and while engineers haven’t spliced genes into newly created hybrid varieties, like GMOs, they were also developed in the controlled environment of a laboratory. Because plants grown from hybrid and GMO seeds cannot produce reliable offspring, if any at all, the companies that create, patent, and sell these seeds wield a disconcerting amount of power over many farmers who are forced to buy new seeds from them every year.
The truth is, if you’re going for real, unadulterated food, you won’t get that from hybrid seeds and definitely not with fish-spiked tomatoes. Think about that the next time you make homemade tomato sauce. How did these tomatoes get so big? Why don’t they freeze? Thank you, computerized genetic sequencing, and a special thanks to you, Mr. Alaskan Flounder, you’re genes have proven very useful.
So what would happen if we stopped using Heirloom seeds? Genetic diversity would float like a lead balloon and lab potatoes would be so pumped up they might develop a higher intelligence and biceps.
Jokes aside, the decision to cultivate time-tested heirloom varieties, instead of genetically modified organisms is an important one. A choice that is much bigger than simply growing better-tasting tomatoes.
Matt Kokenes is the genius behind http://microfarmgardens.com, a company dedicated to helping people grow organic gardens anywhere; in yards, rooftops or balconies.
PS–You can receive delicious menus (complete with shopping lists!) using those heirloom veggies delivered right to your email inbox by subscribing to Dinner Answers today!