Heirloom Tomatoes and National Seed-Swap Day: Attend a Local Event or Host Your Own!

Reader Contribution by Ira Wallace
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The joy of heirloom tomatoes fresh sliced from the garden is one of the main reasons many of us started growing our own vegetables. More varieties of tomatoes, and also sweet peppers, keep finding their way into our trials here at Acorn Community Farm, home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. We usually wait to start the majority of our tomatoes until late February and continue sowing through early April. That way we have bountiful harvests at the peak of perfection in late August and September for the many Tomato Tastings we host. Our Tasting Tents at the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello (September 6-7, 2013) and the MOTHER EARTH NEWS FAIR at Seven Springs (September 20-22, 2013) culminate our season. At those events we don’t just have tomatoes, but also a wide variety of heirloom peppers and melons. Last year at Seven Springs we even brought fresh sorghum and garlic to expand the Tasting experience. Folks stopping by loved chewing chunks of fresh sorghum to enjoy the sweet juice. 

Many local tasting events will also send a shout out to the local community gardeners and farmers to bring their favorite unusual varieties to share.  So if you grow a tomato variety (or varieties!) that doesn’t get the attention it deserves, consider sowing extra plants this year so you’ll have enough to bring and spread the word!

Many events with tasting tents will also host a seed swap, either as a distinct event or as a place to chat and exchange seeds throughout a festival. Seed swaps are one of my favorite places to discover previously unknown family heirloom varieties and to meet the gardeners preserving them. If you have never been to a seed swap now is the time to find one happening near you and check it out. Seed swaps are also a great place to learn which varieties grow well in your area while meeting other enthusiastic gardeners and getting some free seeds. The fourth Saturday of January is National Seed Swap Day. This year we’re celebrating early with the Community Seed Swap at the Southern SAWG conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, Thursday, January 24th. I’m so excited that P. Allen Smith and his Garden Home crew will be stopping by the SSAWG Community Seed Swap to share the excitement with his viewers. P. Allen Smith is well known as a strong proponent of maintaining our agricultural heritage with his outspoken support for preserving heritage breed of poultry through the Heritage Poultry Conservancy. As a dedicated seed saver, I am delighted to have his support for farmers and gardeners saving and sharing their own pure heirloom and open-pollinated garden seeds.

And there will be a lot more to share! There will be several varieties of fresh popped organic popcorn for snacks provided by members of the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) who are having their Annual Meeting in conjunction with SSAWG this year. These top notch organic growers will also be bringing many heirloom seeds not commonly available (and hints on how to save them yourself).  OSGATA is one of the groups leading the fight against GMO contamination of our seed supply with the landmark lawsuit OSGATA et al v Monsanto.

If you can’t join us in Little Rock, consider joining us for the Washington Gardener Seed Swap in Alexandria, Virginia, Saturday, February 2nd. We’ll be talking about saving seeds of herbs and many of the lovely flowers that provide food and shelter for pollinators and other beneficial insects. Check out the Southern Exposure events calendar for other opportunities to meet us at seed swaps near you, or organize your own using the MOTHER EARTH NEWS guide How to Host a Seed Swap. Southern Exposure will help by offering donation seed to nonprofits and community groups to help you get started.

Next time I promise you a recipe. Maybe something made with the sundried tomatoes we put up last summer. Thanks for stopping by and we hope you’ll come back often to see what we’re growing and cooking.

Ira Wallace lives and gardens at Acorn Community Farm, home of Southern Exposure Seed Exchange,where she coordinates variety selection and seed growers. Southern Exposure offers 700+ varieties of non-GMO, open-pollinated, and organic seeds. Ira is a co-organizer of the Heritage Harvest Festival at Monticello. She serves on the board of the Organic Seed Alliance and is a frequent presenter at the Mother Earth News Fairs and many other eventsthroughout the Southeast. Her first book, The Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening in the Southeast, will be available in December 2013.