As the word implies, heirloom seeds are historical varieties that are passed from generation to generation, like an heirloom possession. In the U.S., they’ve often been brought by immigrants and handed down through the years, sometimes within a single family. Heirlooms are open-pollinated varieties of fruits and vegetables, so they rely on wind or pollinators to transfer pollen between flowers.
When compatible varieties are grown closely together, this can result in cross-pollination and hybridization. Hybrids are one-off varieties that cannot breed true, but hybrids can stabilize, at which time they are no longer hybrids and become their own variety, often developing improved qualities, including new flavors or colors, climate hardiness, and disease resistance.
Open pollination also means that seeds can be saved, allowing the grower to select the hardiest plants’ seed for growing the next year; this gives the farm an advantage of growing plants that are better adapted to the local microclimate.
Most of the produce grown on Wind’s Four Quarters Farm is composed of heirloom varieties obtained from Seed Savers Exchange, a seed stewardship organization based in Decorah, Iowa. We also obtain some seed from Johnny’s Selected Seed, an employee-owned seed company in Maine that has made the Safe Seed Pledge, a promise to not knowingly sell seed produced in a laboratory, and create hybrids through normal cross-breeding farming techniques; and from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, an heirloom seed company from Missouri.
With the wide diversity of crops grown on the Farm, the specific varieties of seed grown each year may vary. However, we’ve identified a few favorites that we will grow as long as we can save our own seed or obtain new seed.