Q & A: What Does Heirloom Actually Mean?

All summer long we've been seeing "heirloom" at the Farmer's Markets and grocery store.  Whether tomatoes, peppers, squash, eggplant or even potatoes, it seems we can't get enough heirloom.  Shoppers have come to recognize bright colors, bumpy shapes and scars as a signifier of these special veggies, but what does "heirloom" actually mean?

There are three basic traits that determine whether a vegetable can be classified as heirloom or not: age, pollination and quality.

Age: Heirloom vegetables are grown from seeds that have been passed down through generations, usually at least 50 years.  Some classify heirlooms as vegetables introduced prior to 1951 when plant breeders first introduced hybrids.

Pollination: Heirloom vegetables are open-pollinated, meaning that they are pollinated naturally, relying on pollination from insects and the wind.  

Quality: Most consumers are drawn to heirloom veggies because their taste is of a much higher quality than their commercially grown grocery store counterparts.

Enjoy your heirlooms!