28 April 2010

Seed Saver, Open Pollinator

There isn’t a standard definition for heirloom vegetables. Author Arthur Allen, whose search for the perfect tomato documented in his charming book, Ripe

Photo by Allison Jones

theorizes an heirloom is an ideal formed by nostalgia. Others stay away from metaphysical pondering and concretely  state an heirloom must predate the hybrid era, others draw a line in the sand and say the plants must have been around before the Luther Burbank epoch. Gardeners might surmise an heirloom is an open-pollinating plant – one that needs bees, bugs or breeze in order to fruit.

While Christie Hansen doesn’t have the power to decree what an heirloom plant is; she does have a passion for them. Heirlooms are the backbone of Hansen Family Farms – about 500 different varieties of plants are grown on their land in Canby, all but a handful are heirlooms and open-pollinators. Christie cites heirlooms as a way to be less reliant on seed companies, whose never-ending consolidation, limits availability of favorite cultivars. Whatever heirlooms are, what they are not is also important. And they are most certainly not Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs). Christie feels that GMOs  “only promote the use of pesticides which are overly used nowadays. [GMO] seed is making farmers forget how to farm…farmers are forgetting that there are other ways to take care of weeds or harmful bugs instead of spraying plants and soil with a contaminant.”

Mostly, Christie loves the flavor and “robust, colors, productivity, variety that is available!  Let’s take tomatoes, there are thousands upon thousands of varieties of heirloom/open-pollinated varieties.  The colors range from red, green, brown, purple, pink, striped, speckled, yellow, orange.  And they come in sizes from cherry to 4+ pounders!  I absolutely love the selection.”

The Hansen’s love growing heirlooms and abstain from chemicals and pesticides, by default they must love bugs. Hansen Farms bees are busy; their preying mantises prey and ladybugs aren’t that lady-like with aphids.

Hansen Family Farms is a new grower at the Buckman Market: Be sure to welcome them when the Market formerly known as Eastbank begins its season on May 6th. Until then you can visit them online at hansenfamilyfarm.com.