Expert Opinions

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Are all these "new" heirloom fruits and vegetables any better for you than regular fruits and vegetables?

Heirloom vegetables and fruits (and herbs and flowers) are grown from non-hybridized and non-altered seeds. These seeds are open-pollinated (without human intervention) and have been unaltered for at least three generations. Often these seeds are the repositories of genes that preserve genetic diversity (which in turn are used frequently by biologists to create new varieties). Heirloom seeds can be saved and grown year after year yielding the same results. Hybridized and many other types of altered seeds will not reproduce at all. (A hybrid, by definition, cannot be reproduced by seeds: The seeds, even if germinated, will not replicate the parent; rather, they will more closely resemble one of the grandparents.)

Whether or not heirloom fruits and vegetables are healthier is an ongoing debate. However, proponents of heirloom produce maintain that the fruits and vegetables taste better, even though they are often blemished or of inconsistent size. They tend to be a bit more expensive in the market, because they are not usually mass produced.

Heirloom seeds, hardly "new," are usually the seeds of choice for organic gardeners. Most heirloom plants have evolved over many generations to a particular microclimate and are frequently hardier and more resistant to pests and droughts than bioengineered varieties, often eliminating the need for pesticides or (nonorganic) fertilizer. Heirloom seeds and seedlings are available for the home gardener from specialized nurseries and seed companies. They may require a slightly higher investment than regular seeds and seedlings. Or perhaps a friend or family member will eagerly share some heirloom seeds for your garden.

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