Heirloom vegetables are big at farmer’s markets, popular among backyard gardeners and now they can even be found in supermarkets, but they’re not an easy thing to define.
Some take the word “heirloom” literally and define these plants as those that are saved and handed down from one generation to the next. Others choose to set a date: some say the plants need to be over 100 years old, others say at least 50 years old, others choose the moment when hybrids came into more widespread use as a cutoff (generally, choosing either the year 1945 – the end of WWII- or 1951).
Backyard gardener Jacqueline Kennedy of Sonoma County, California gets her seeds from seed-saving groups to grow even heirloom corn on her Geyserville, California property. “Corn they’ve been made to get sweeter and sweeter and now to me when you bite into one and all I taste is sugar.” Kennedy explains that with her non-hybrid Country Gentleman corn, “you have to eat it right away, like in the old days. After you pick it right away, before the sugar starts converting to starch”.
In this video, she shows us her mostly heirloom-seeded backyard garden and talks about some of her favorite varieties and their vivid names, including the tomatoes Tetón de Venus (breast of Venus). She also explains how crops like corn are being endangered by GMO varieties because they are so sensitive to cross-pollination. “To grow pure corn you have to grow one variety with no other corn within a mile because it’s wind pollinated”.