- Vegetables: tomatoes
- Farm Business Management: economic/marketing
A farmer in Odessa, Minnesota, is out to change the world, one heirloom tomato at a time.
Ardie Eckhardt, a fourth-generation family farmer, was recently awarded a 2004 SARE grant for her proposal to bring heritage tomatoes to home gardeners and consumers. Her three-part approach will provide heirloom tomato plants to gardeners and farmers, provide fresh tomatoes directly to her local co-op, and educate and encourage others to use heirloom varieties in their cooking and gardening.
Heritage vegetables come from seeds and plants that have been passed down from generation to generation. The amount of varieties of one vegetable can be astounding provide an important genetic diversity to the gardening world. In tomatoes particularly, this diversity means an incredible array of tastes and flavors unmatched by any grocery-store tomato.
Eckhardt says, “Of course, there are lots of scientific and ecological reasons for maintaining diversity in what we eat and what we grow. And those are important and reason enough to grow heirlooms and keep them in use. But I have to admit, I grow heirlooms because I like to eat, and I like to eat really good food.”
Eckhardt has grown heirloom tomatoes for four years. “The first year I grew heirlooms happened to be a very good year for tomatoes and a little success with those first plants has led to a passion for more. And, because I had more plants than I needed, I was able to share with my gardening friends and family. Sharing the sense of experimentation, along with the obvious difference in taste, just made the effort more fun.” She now has built a group of test gardeners who have reported high-quality, strong-stemmed, disease-free plants.
This type of awareness about the benefits and taste of heritage vegetables can benefit farmers and consumers on a large scale. As word spreads among vegetable lovers and other producers, Eckhardt will be able to share some of her research about heirloom tomatoes. Eckhardt purchases her seeds from Seed Savers in Decorah, Iowa.
As an avid tomato grower, I discovered that my community of gardeners was unaware of the diversity of heirloom varieties and unfamiliar with the importance of diversity in preserving varieties. The joy of discovering the optimum variety for a specific use in the kitchen, and the connection between really good food and heirloom varieties needed to be made; which has lead to applying for a grant to assist in spreading the word.
To grow and introduce heritage tomato varieties to local consumers and growers with intent to create a market for selling tomato seeds and plants. Also to create an awareness of the importance of preserving genetic diversity.