Have you gone vintage with your produce yet? You may have spotted a colorful array of heirloom tomatoes at the farmers’ market but wondered what sets them apart from regular tomatoes, which are hybrids. While their name may sound fancy, heirloom vegetables are simply a throwback to the type of produce everyone used to eat before mass production intervened. These vintage varieties have been around for at least 50 years and are often passed down through several generations of a family because of their desirable characteristics. Plucked straight from the vine, heirloom produce has become a staple at local farmers’ markets because its thin, ripe skin makes it tricky to transport. In addition to tasting fresher and sweeter, heirlooms also boast health and environmental benefits:
Recent research shows that heirlooms actually contain more nutrients than hybrids. It appears that irrigation and fertilization techniques used by commercial farmers to get high yields have an unwanted side effect: the concentration of minerals in these plants decreases. Heirlooms also outshine hybrids because they don’t suffer from what scientists call the “genetic dilution effect.” Plant breeders often cross varieties without giving much thought to maintaining nutritional value. High-yield plants are usually rich in carbohydrates but lack an abundance of vitamins and minerals.
Friendly to the environment
Heirloom farmers usually grow organically, so you’re supporting sustainable agriculture when you choose heirlooms over hybrids. Heirlooms also help maintain biodiversity in our food supply. By keeping different varieties of a crop in existence, we are lessening our dependency on monoculture farming. When farmers use these older varieties, they’re able to breed resistance to pests and diseases into modern crops without resorting to the use of dangerous pesticides.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post by Melissa Lum. Melissa is a freelance lifestyle writer. She blogs about health and wellness topics at The Good Goji.