The Case for Heirlooms

In Genesis, we learn that God created the world and that everything was good. Later, when Adam and Eve leave the garden, we read that they will earn their bread through daily toil. Since that time, man has had an ambiguous relationship with the earth. From the beginning, gardeners have dealt with insects, drought, plant diseases, and other challenges. On the other hand, humans have been blessed in abundance with the bounties of the earth.

What are the benefits of toiling for our daily bread? For one thing, we come to rely on God who grants us everything. Gardening is, by its nature, an act of faith and humility. Through this experience, we can learn to give up control and turn to God for our daily sustenance.

Unfortunately, this is often a hard concept to accept. Rather than working with the natural cycles of the earth, we may come to rely on the arm of man. Through science, we believe we can overcome and control the natural world.

Genetically modified seeds are one example of this inclination. A genetically modified seed is one that has been changed at the molecular level to resist insect infestations or disease. In some cases, these plants are designed to produce heavier yields. It sounds good in theory, but the problem is that little is known about the safety of GMOs, and what we do know is frightening.

Genetically modified crops endanger our food supply, for one. Because these crops lack genetic diversity, if a virus strikes them, entire crops could be wiped out. Pollen from these crops can travel via wind and animals to pollinate non-GMO crops, further exacerbating the danger.

Many GMO crops are herbicide resistant. Experts fear this resistance will allow farmers to use herbicides with less restraint than ever before. GMOs can also harm wildlife and beneficial insects. They are known, for example, to kill the larva of monarch butterflies.

Numerous studies involving animals have found that GMO crops can cause serious health risks, ranging from allergies to intestinal problems to infertility. Experts believe infants and children are most at risk. Currently, the most commonly consumed GMO foods in the U.S. include corn, canola, sugar from sugar beets, and soy products. Almost every processed food sold contains GMO products, yet the FDA doesn’t require any labeling of these products. Clearly, man’s desire to control the elements is out of balance.

Heirloom plants, on the other hand, have been grown for hundreds of years. These are plants that were originally found in nature and have been cultivated by man. Although gardeners may have carefully selected the best traits to save and pass forward, the basic genetic makeup of these plants remains unaltered.

Heirloom plants are sometimes ignored because people believe they are more susceptible to disease. In some cases, heirloom plants can be less disease-resistant—it’s true. On the other hand, they are usually more hardy and drought tolerant than hybrids. Their fruit usually tastes better and may even be more nutritious. In addition, the seeds can be saved from year to year, allowing you to become more self-sufficient.

Heirloom plants are a diverse lot. Heirloom tomato plants, for example, are lusty, vigorous plants that can stretch over eight feet high in one season. The fruit is equally diverse. Fruits from a single plant may vary in size and appearance. Compared to hybrid tomatoes, heirloom tomatoes may be bumpy, cracked, misshapen or oddly colored – which is, of course, one of the best reasons to grow them. Do we really need perfectly shaped, uniform produce? Isn’t a little variety more interesting?

Gardening with heirloom vegetables teaches the gardener to value diversity over conformity. Gardeners learn to recognize those inner qualities, such as delicious flavor or cold hardiness, which truly add value. Most importantly, gardening with heirloom seeds reminds us that we are not in charge. Through abundant harvests and dismal failures, we learn to express gratitude to Him who gives all.

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