Monday, February 5, 2007

The organic, heritage trend, or in search of the striped tomato

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Cherokee Trail of Tears bean, saved from my garden
First supplied by a local seed company

Mackenzie’s starbucks technique –

Okay, so I said that this blog was not political unless you count every action
as being political as I do… I lied. Or perhaps I should say that this blog will
occasionally contain a direct political post which relates to gardening.

- a.k.a. cornering the market. Clearly all the press put out by the organic and small seed companies that they offer safer seed which better meets the need of the backyard gardener, or small market grower, has been successful. Or perhaps it’s just that people want the same diversity in their veggies that they have in their flowers. More cynically, perhaps the seed companies are hoping that buyers will impulsively buy the purple carrot or the black leafed kale out of novelty just as they buy the orange coneflower. Big seed companies, such as Mackenzie, are starting to offer organic seed and heritage varieties. Should I be happy? At least it isn’t all about monocropping. Is monopoly better than monocropping?

I highly doubt that one company offering a half dozen open pollinated vegetables will offer more diversity than a half a dozen small seed suppliers offering a catalogue each of different varieties grown and adapted to different locations in Canada.

The cherry red pear tomato is a nice example of marketing in action.
"Organic", they assure you, "an heirloom classic."

“Fertilize with natural resources such as compost, manure, lime or phosphate. No
herbicides, pesticides or man made fertilizers were used in the production of
these seeds.”

Notice how it picks up on the creed of the conscientious grower – no man made fertilizers, it assures, and recommends that you use ‘natural’ resources as your fertilizer. Feel a little bit interested?

Wait, there’s more. This variety is intermediate – that’s code in organic world for, wasn’t bred for that annoying characteristic of determinism which makes all tomatoes develop at the same time, and can be trained upward for small spaces. In other words, was made for you and your summer salads not the food machine. Oh and the best part, it is ‘new’ for 2007 – new classic heirlooms, I love it! Of course, they mean new for them.

Now, I would hate to accidentally advertise for them but here is another stroke of genius offered by small seed suppliers for some time now: variety packs. Oh and fear not this ‘rainbow of tomatoes’ is all heirloom, all the time.

Other trends that Mackenzie’s has picked up on are the interest in Asian and Italian veggies offered through their Mackenzie Chinese and Gusto Italiano lines.

If you are interested in supporting both diversity of seed and seed suppliers then you might like the following sites:


An interesting site for Ottawa and the valley:


Italian: Berton Seeds (website isn't working)

Berton Seeds Co. Ltd., of Weston, Ont., Tel. 416-745-5655

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Bush bean variety that cross-pollinated in my garden in 2004


Patrick said...

Thanks for all the comments!

Perhaps you've already seen, but I not only saw this picture, but I've linked to the post. I started to make a very long comment here, then decided it was better to make my own post.

This was a really good topic to make a post on!

Anonymous said...

Just found your blog, thank you so much for sharing your experience and passion. Indeed gardening and becoming self reliant is political. Very political. I am working my way down the road to being off the grid on my urban homestead in Calgary. Long way to go but at least I have a beautiful large backyard with lots of gardening potential! I am intrigued by the beans that you mentioned, the black ones. Do you know where I might get some for next year? I will be saving my peas this year, thats how I found your great blog. Happy Harvest.

Ottawa Gardener said...

Anon: Check out the Seeds of Diversity website for a local source of the Cherokee Trail of Tears bean. It has become more common over the years. I got mine from Cottage Gardener originally, if I remember correctly.

P.S. I have a new blog: The Veggie Patch Reimagined.

Good luck with your urban homestead!