Eating The Sweetest Discovery: 5 Benefits of Buying Heirloom Produce
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about my purchasing power and how I would use my dollars to send a message when it comes to organic, sustainable foods. It occurred to me that I had been overlooking the value in buying heirloom fruits and vegetables as a way to ensure that what I was eating was, in fact, sustainable. I know, so simple, right? Yet, I admit to buying them sparingly as an interesting addition to my dishes when they should be the featured star of the show!
My last trip to the market was filled with choices, as usual, and it dawned on me that the tradition of growing heirloom produce is one that may not have been so radically affected by the introduction of harsh chemical pesticides and genetic modification. That said, I am still learning that you need to find out the source of your produce no matter what variety they are, but the truth is that heirloom seed varieties are open pollinated seed developed before 1940. This means that they have not had the nutrients bred out of them and that the introduction of genetically modified seed into our food stream in the 1980s was lost on them. Because these types of seeds are bred for their flavor and not their durability while being shipped they are more often than not from a local source. They are a viable source of nutrition and you might just be better off buying them if you are sensitive to pesticides and other impurities. Additionally, their seeds will produce fertile seeds that can be saved for subsequent growing seasons giving them an added bonus of “self-sustainability”.
As we roll out our group cooking classes and study the benefits of heirloom produce, we can be a part of raising awareness around their place in the market and in home gardens. This work can inform what we can do to keep the tradition of growing them alive and untainted. Some of what we know about the benefits of heirloom fruits and vegetables are:
1. They are a rich source of vitamins and can provide up to 40% of our daily
requirement of immune building nutrients.
They add tremendous flavor to your cooking yet are low in calories, sodium and sugar.
3. They are generally more gentle on the environment, because fewer industrial
chemicals are typically needed to support their growth cycles.
4. They have maintained their biodiversity, and a more diverse plant base
tends to better support wildlife; They are also openly pollinated by bees, butterflies and
other carrier insects supporting a healthy ecosystem.
5. When you buy heirloom produce, you are most likely buying “local”; heirloom produce does not ship
well, so they are more likely to have come from a source nearby.
So if you’re like me, then you’ll want to start using heirloom vegetables as more than just a pretty item in the bowl–but as a main ingredient worthy of our response and of our efforts to maintain their presence in our gardens, in our markets and on our tables!
To help you source some of the heirloom goodness here in the Bay Area, I’ve listed a few resources so that you can better navigate heirloom produce: