What is an "Heirloom"?
Though it may seem to be a straightforward question, the answer is trickier to come by than most gardeners realize. It’s also sometimes tricky even for purveyors of heirloom seeds such as us ourselves and our contracted growers!
Unlike other related terms such as “organic” which are heavily regulated and clearly defined, monikers such as “heirloom” and “open-pollinated” - as applied to vegetable gardening - are simply more open to interpretation and debate. Some heirloom gardeners cling to stricter interpretations of the term, whilst others interpret its meaning more loosely.
What matters most, however, are the general tenants of heirloom gardening on which we can all agree:
• Any and all “heirloom” and/or “open-pollinated” vegetable seed varieties have been cultivated by independent growers for at least 50 years; and often for centuries. Many of these varieties have been handed down from generation to generation and are usually familiar to the general vegetable gardening public.
• Heirloom seeds are “open pollinated”, which means that they will reproduce naturally, without interference or manipulation from any outside controlled source. This method of natural and traditional breeding results in the “offspring” (ie yield realized) being true to the “parent” (ie seed variety planted).
• Heirloom/OP vegetable varieties are non-patented, and thereby available to all to plant, harvest and consume at their leisure, without fear of retribution from any corporate or government entity.
• Heirloom/OP varieties are, by definition, Non-GMO (non-genetically modified organisms), meaning that the seeds themselves have been produced naturally without being “genetically altered”. Yes, plants – including many varieties offered on our site - have been cross-bred for eons, but the ones featured here are widely considered “open-pollinated” because their genetic code has not been manipulated by modern engineering.
If one thing is certain, the debate over heirloom vs. hybrid vegetable gardening will rage on – probably for time immemorial. It is not our objective to politicize the topic, but rather to provide a comprehensive online market for likeminded heirloom vegetable enthusiasts such as ourselves. Like you, we love to garden and we enjoy the fruits of our labor. We wish you happy gardening, and we hope to earn your trust and your patronage!
~ The team at farmfreshseeds.com
Note: For further reading on this topic, we recommend a thoughtful, instructive, and objective article by Dr. Ben Watson at the National Gardening Association. It can be found by clicking here.