Heirloom Tomato Weekend Passes On Seed Saving Tradition

| 7/17/2013 11:50:04 AM

Heirloom Tomato Weekend 

A much-prized golden-orange tomato is the living legacy of a woman named Djena Lee, who cultivated the sweet, tangy fruit when she lived in Minnesota during the 1920s. The plant is growing in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden today and will be one of the varieties featured during HeirloomTomato Weekend. The event will take place from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday, August 24 and 25.

According to the rich lore surrounding heirloom tomatoes, Lee gave some of her treasured plants to a 15-year-old boy called Frank Morrow. He would maintain the variety for decades and it’s said that ‘Djena Lee’s Golden Girl’ (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Djena Lee’s Golden Girl’) took first place at the Chicago Fair for ten consecutive years.  Morrow, who became a reverend living in St. Paul, MN, passed the seeds along to the Southern Exposure Seed Exchange in the late 1980s, and the seeds are commercially available today.

“I love the stories of seeds being passed down between generations of gardeners,” said Lisa Hilgenberg, horticulturist in the Regenstein Fruit & Vegetable Garden. “They tell us who grew the plants, how the seeds got here. They speak to the nostalgia surrounding heirlooms and give us an emotional connection to our food.”

Most people think of an heirloom as a hand-made quilt, brooch, antique desk or other treasured possession passed down within a family. The items help family members remember where they came from and remind them of what life was like back in the days of their great-grandparents and earlier generations. The glorious and ever-increasing diversity of today’s selection heirloom tomatoes speaks to the tradition of passing down precious tomato varieties in a similar fashion.  

Visitors can learn more about these traditions during Heirloom Tomato Weekend, a two-day event including guided tours, cooking classes, grafting trial, family drop-in activities, tomato-related items from special vendors, and a plant give-away while supplies last. Special seed-saving demonstrations will show visitors how to pass down their own heirloom tomatoes. A detailed schedule of activities is included below.

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