School’s in Session – Seeds 101

Wow, our tenth season opened with a bang last Sunday! The weather was a bit rainy during morning set up, but we couldn’t have asked for better weather for opening day. Just like last year, many vendors sold out quickly and most recorded record sales. So, thank YOU!


I’m excited to be writing more this summer and I have several things up my sleeve. First of all, Frugal Foodie Mama will be back once a month with her mouthwatering recipes using things she picks up at the market. Our market photographer and I will be visiting our vendors throughout the season and will be highlighting each vendor with their own post – we’ve already been to a few and we have been having so much fun! Watch for the first one soon. We will have our annual price survey and some insight from those who started the market ten years ago. And today will be the first in a series of posts I’m calling “School’s in Session.”


Heirloom. Hybrid. Organic. Non-GMO (genetically modified organism).  What exactly are we talking about? And why should we care?


Well, pour yourself a cup of tea and grab a bowl of strawberries and let’s dig in.

Hot cocoa and heirloom beans from Seed Savers Exchange

So what exactly is an heirloom? Think of these seeds as the antique and model cars. They have been preserved or passed down through generations because they taste great, grow well in the local climate, and best of all, they have a story. The heirloom term seems to crop up a lot when talking about tomatoes. Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter (which hails from WV by the way), and Brandywine are just a few of the tomatoes that farmers at our market grow. Some grow family heirlooms or maybe have been gifted seeds from customers and friends that have been passed down through generations. Be sure to ask your favorite farmer about their favorite heirloom tomato. I bet each one will give you a different answer!

Heirloom tomatoes from my garden destined for tomato sauce


But, tomatoes aren’t the only heirloom vegetable or fruit. DNC Farm grows a lot of heirloom varieties of apples. Do you have an apple tree in the woods or by the road near your house? Probably an heirloom variety.


What about a hybrid? First off, a hybrid is NON a GMO seed. A hybrid seed is a cross of pollen from two different varieties and is done by a person. Do you know those delicious Sungold tomatoes? They are those little sweet bursts of sunshine that we so anxiously anticipate mid-summer. Yep, they’re a hybrid. Hybrid varieties tend to be bred for a certain trait – like sweetness and yield for Sungold. The downside to a hybrid is that the seeds are unstable and if planted the following year will not produce the same variety it yielded the year before. So, gardeners and farmers are unable to save these seeds and need to purchase them each year.


There’s a lot buzz around the word organic. I could dedicate a whole post to organic growing methods! But, in terms of seeds, heirloom and hybrid seeds can both be organic. This simply means that they have been saved and grown using organic methods – no synthetic fertilizers or pesticides. Don’t fear if any of our farmers say they “spray” their crops – there are plenty of organically approved things that can be sprayed on crops that help crops grow or help to alleviate pest problems. It is always important to talk to your farmer!


Non-GMO is a HUGE buzzword right now. Genetically modified crops generally include corn, soybeans, and wheat. These crops are designed to resist certain pesticides and in theory, grow more food. The Non-GMO certified seal is often on pre-packaged foods because corn is ubiquitous in our food supply. Organic is non-GMO by it’s very nature.


So, what does this all mean? It means that local farmers and gardeners are trying to preserve heirloom foods by saving seeds and growing older varieties of fruits and vegetables. This is keeping variety in our food supply and flavor in our food. By buying local each week, you are helping further this mission. So, whether you are in the market for a Cherokee Purple tomato or Black Seeded Simpson lettuce, the farmers market is the place to find them. So, until next week – stay fresh!

Author: heidinawrocki

Soap maker. Knitter. Farmers market junkie.

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