The Heirloom Garden: Preserving the Past and Protecting Our Future {Archived}

Written by Courtney, Contributing Writer

An heirloom zucchini plant from Courtney's garden.
(Zucchini is especially important to choose from an heirloom
variety because most zucchini has been genetically modified.)

Our food supply is changing. The introduction of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) has drastically altered the way we grow food. Even on a small scale, gardening is not the same as what it once was. Our gardens may look similar to those of our grandmothers’, but are the vegetables and fruits we grow the same? Would our ancestors have recognized some of the modified varieties we grow today?

Malnourished in the Land of Plenty

We want bigger, better, faster, more.

Plants are now altered to produce desirable traits, most commonly the ability to withstand certain herbicides and pesticides. In this case, bacteria and other cells are inserted into crops such as corn and soy so that they will produce their own “herbicides and pesticides” and are able to resist the toxic chemicals that are sprayed on them.

The most notorious GM crops are soy, cotton, and canola, but advances in GMOs are growing fast. Just like other areas where man thinks he can outwit nature (think antibiotics and vaccines for prime examples), he must constantly up his game to stay one step ahead.

Genetic modification is different from natural breeding because genes are transferred unnaturally across species barriers. Foreign cells or bacteria are forced into a plant, altering its genetic make up. The plant’s natural genes can be rearranged, turned off, deleted, or mutated, resulting in an end product with little genetic resemblance to the plant it was meant to modify.

Furthermore, it is believed that the foreign genes and bacteria can transfer to our cells and infiltrate the bacteria inside us. Allergies are the most common problem associated with genetically modified food. Reproductive problems are another major concern. But it is possible that we have yet to discover the magnitude of the consequences of GMOs since, like the consequences of smoking, they may not show up for decades.

What we do know is that we are not being nourished in the way we would from natural, unmodified food and we are experiencing unintended consequences that only worsen our health and threaten our food supply. 

From the Seed Savers Exchange website:

The genetic diversity of the world's food crops is eroding at an unprecedented and accelerating rate. The vegetables and fruits currently being lost are the result of thousands of years of adaptation and selection in diverse ecological niches around the world. Each variety is genetically unique and has developed resistance to the diseases and pests with which it evolved. Plant breeders use the old varieties to breed resistance into modern crops that are constantly being attacked by rapidly evolving diseases and pests. Without these infusions of genetic diversity, food production is at risk from epidemics and infestations.

Just how dangerous is genetic erosion? The late Jack Harlan, world renowned plant collector who wrote the classic "Crops and Man" while Professor of Plant Genetics at University of Illinois at Urbana, has written: "These resources stand between us and catastrophic starvation on a scale we cannot imagine. In a very real sense, the future of the human race rides on these materials. The line between abundance and disaster is becoming thinner and thinner, and the public is unaware and unconcerned. Must we wait for disaster to be real before we are heard? Will people listen only after it is too late."

Our Creator Had a Better Plan

“And God said, ‘Let the earth sprout vegetation, plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit in which is their seed, each according to its kind, on the earth.’ And it was so.” ~ Genesis 1:11 (ESV)

Have you ever studied botany in depth? Wow. It’s amazing to learn how intricate the process of seed to plant is and how well it works on its own. Each seed according to its kind.

In our own little gardens in our own little communities, we can help preserve traditional seeds. We can make a small difference when we simply choose to plant an heirloom garden, and together, all of us can make a great impact.

Why Grow Heirloom Seeds?

1. Health

Not all non-heirlooms are genetically modified, but one sure fire way to avoid GMOs is to opt for the heirloom seed.

2. Cost

One major benefit to heirloom seeds is that they can be saved and planted again the next year. Most commercial varieties of seeds today cannot survive past the growing season they were prepared for. Genetically modified seeds are sterile and must be purchased again in subsequent years.

Seed Savers Exchange offers information on planting and saving a wide variety of seeds.

Throwback Road has some great tips for garden planning.  Check out this great idea for saving and organizing seeds! And take a look at her garden plans while you’re at it.

3. Preparedness

Unless we preserve the seeds of the past and keep them in tact and unmodified, we are at risk of losing the ability of the plant to sustain us. Monsanto will not sustain us. I promise you that.

In the event of a major crisis, being prepared could make the difference between survival and starvation. Those packets of sterile seeds that are good only for one growing season are a far cry from the properly preserved heirloom that can nourish generations to come.

4. Taste

The flavor of an heirloom vegetable or fruit just can’t be beat. Sometimes when a gene is inserted into a plant for a specific trait, there are other traits within that plant that may be lost. Flavor is often sacrificed in favor of say, pest resistance.

A waxy, sprayed store-bought tomato doesn’t even compare to biting into a ripe Brandywine tomato fresh from the garden.

5. Tradition

There is satisfaction in passing along a tradition that has been preserved for decades, sometimes hundreds or thousands of years. I enjoy reading the history behind the heirloom plants I grow. Each year I try to plant at least one new heirloom and I enjoy learning about the history behind it. The Cinderella pumpkin is new to my garden this year.

Resources for the Heirloom Gardener

If you’re wondering where to start, below is a small list of resources with information on heirlooms as well as sources for buying seeds.

Seeds Savers Exchange is my favorite source for heirloom seeds AND informational resources on growing them!

Baker’s Creek offers another wide selection of heirloom seeds. They don’t offer the educational resources like Seeds Savers Exchange does, but they still offer quite a variety of seeds.

Seeds of Change offers all organic (but not all heirloom) seeds.

There are so many great blogs on gardening out there. Deep Roots at Home is just one that I enjoy reading for gardening knowledge and for encouragement in my home. You will surely find a wealth of inspiration there!

What resources for the traditional gardener have you found helpful? I’d love for you to share yours!

Courtney blogs at Simply Nurtured, where she shares her passion for laying a strong foundation for baby and sells products that help mothers to do so.
Courtney is married to her best friend and is a homeschooling mom to 5 children, and she and her husband are expecting their 6th blessing in April.

Courtney is reminded daily of God's amazing grace and tries to not take one moment for granted. She strives to live simply in order to follow Christ fully and experience joy abundantly. When she is able to, she loves to spend time reading, writing, sewing, painting, doing crafty projects, and planning and organizing projects.

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