Amy Goldman is on a mission to keep heirlooms in the hands of those who grow and enjoy them. Chairperson of Seed Savers Exchange and author of The Heirloom Tomato, she spoke with alarm of the seedless tomato offered by Burpee. “Breeding the life out of a fruit is anathema to me. Taking seeds out of the hands of gardeners and farmers is the ultimate in seed monopoly. For the last 11,000 years it’s farmers and gardeners who have domesticated all of our food crops and passed seed along to next generation.”
Goldman’s concern for preserving the diversity of plants goes far beyond the limits of a backyard garden; like the plants she champions she looks to the welfare of generations who will follow us. “In a world of homogenized taste where industrial agriculture dominates, heirlooms are the natural alternative and give biodiversity – they’re the genetic reservoir of our croplands. That’s our common legacy heritage and birthright, but it’s disappearing at a rate of one- or two-percent per year.
“We need to preserve the past – the future depends on the past,” she said in a telephone interview from Long Island, New York. Dependence on the hybridized plants from a few seed companies reduces the variety of food finding its way to dinner tables, with flavor and nutrition giving way to convenience.
Should all gardens be reduced to a handful of plant choices – often the same as those commercially produced – the kaleidoscope of flavor, texture and aromas that fill our homes would turn pale.
“It’s not just that they’re breeding the life out of tomatoes – they’re breeding the flavor out too,” she said, “It’s the seeds and the gel that surrounds them that gives a lot of flavor to the tomato, because that’s where the acid lurks. I can never understand when some chefs or cooks take the seeds and the gel out – they’re taking out half the flavor.
“But that’s the bottom line, isn’t it? The flavor. I love to feed people… (and when working on this book)…nothing went to waste, whether it went into my soup pot or their soup pot. One of the great joys is sharing the bounty with others.”
Passion for the food she grows has led to several books that delve deeply into growing – and eating – popular garden staples. Melons for the Passionate Grower inspires readers to love the sweet, succulent fruit, and the Compleat Squash will have you plowing up the front, side, and backyards just to grow the rambling vines.
If Goldman knows she’s the pied piper leading us along the path to obsession, she doesn’t show it. Witty, gracious, she plants herself firmly in the group of devoted green thumbs bemused by the surprises that garden has in store each year. “This is how it gets out of control – one thing leads to another. But isn’t it time we got back to real tomatoes? Heirlooms are real tomatoes – these are real vegetables.”
So what tomatoes will you be trying this year? Along with Goldman’s Italian American, I’m trying Stump of the World, Pruden’s Purple, Gold Medal, Great White, Jaune Flamme, and Orange Russian 117.