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pepper seedlings.
Cofrin Center for Biodiversity

Natural and Applied Sciences Heirloom Plant Sale: 17 May 2014

Peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, broccoli, cucumbers, flowers, lettuces, and basil. We hand out numbers starting around 7:30 (maybe earlier). Most plants priced between $ 1.75 and $2.00. Some rare varieties in larger pots $3.00-$5.00.Cash or checks only.

Plant Descriptions and Checklists

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Saturday: 17 May 2014 in the Laboratory Science Greenhouse. 9 am to 3 pm.Someone will be available at the greenhouse between 7:00 to hand out numbers, so that you do not need to stand in line. Doors open at 9 AM and people will be allowed to enter in order by number.

How to Get There

The sale is held in the Laboratory Sciences Greenhouse. Take Circle Drive to the Laboratory Sciences parking lot. The greenhouse door is on the right side of the building.

History of Our Sale

The Heirloom plant sale was started by pepper enthusiast and Seed Savers Exchange member Jeff Nekola in order to provide additional funds to support a program that would bring notable speakers in the sciences to UWGB.  Jeff has moved to New Mexico and the Cofrin Center for Biodiversity has taken over managing the sale.

The goals of the sale have not changed. All profits are used to directly benefit educational opportunities. The funds raised are used to provide an opportunity for students to meet and hear a diversity of perspectives and learn about latest research. Faculty or students can be sponsors and all of the talks are open to the public. In the past we have had speakers talk on a variety of subjects including phosphorus issues in the Great Lakes, endangered butterflies and land snails, new statistical techniques used in environmental science, plant community ecology, and a variety of other subjects. We also use the funds to provide students with money to travel to scientific meetings and conferences to present their own research results.

 

About Heirlooms

Vegetables have been cultivated for thousands of years. As people traded seeds and moved across the world they interbred different varieties in order to improve or develop specific flavors, colors, yields and the plants' ability to survive in a particular climate. Unfortunately, mass producers of vegetables decided to improve transportability and shelf life in vegetables at the expense of flavor and quality. Mass production of these hybrids led to decreasing diversity of vegetable varieties, as farmers plant large mono-cultures of tomatoes and other crops. At the same time the traditional family vegetable plot has mostly disappeared. Some varieties have already gone extinct because there was no one left to plant these wonderful vegetables. A growing interest in personal history and gardening has led to the preservation of many of our heirloom treasures. Native Americans, Amish and Mennonite groups have long collected and preserved vegetable seeds and now there are many others collecting and trading seeds as well. The Seed Savers Exchange and the Native Seeds Search are organizations that have been instrumental in preserving vegetable biodiversity by collecting, growing, and trading seeds.

Heirloom vegetables are gaining in popularity across the country, because they speak to our hearts as well as our palates. These are plants that our great-grandparents were growing, and it is possible to buy or trade seeds of plants from cultures around the world. Our sale includes many varieties developed specifically for the midwestern growing season. We also have a large number of vegetables from other parts of the world, including peppers and tomatoes from South America, the Caribbean, Europe, and southeast Asia.

Importance of Agrobiodiversity

The majority of biodiversity research is related to investigating questions related to the diversity of species in natural habitats. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization estimates, agricultural ecosystems cover as much as 37% of the Earth’s arable land and make up the largest terrestrial ecosystem in the world. This huge artificial ecosystem contains an amazing diversity of domesticated plants and animals. Over the last 12,000 years over 23% of the 30,000 edible plants have been grown by humans but the vast majority of agricultural biodiversity is contained in 20 or so plants and a handful of animals. These domesticated species make up over 90% of the world’s food. The vast majority of this diversity is in the form of genetic variability contained in varieties and strains. For example, there are only two species of domesticated tomatoes, but there are over 900 genetically distinct varieties that will breed true.

There has been increasing interest in understanding and preserving our agricultural biodiversity. Humans focus on developing domesticated plant and animal varieties that best meet local climate and consumer needs.  The genetic variability contained in true-breeding varieties of domesticated plants and animals is important because, like the genetic variability stored in the gene pools of wild species, it is a warehouse of genes adapted to survive a world of variation in climate, pest resistance, and soil conditions. Also similar to many wild species, much genetic variability has been lost as farmers abandon traditional land races for more heavily marketed hybrids.  For example, in the Middle East many drought tolerant wheat varieties were developed over thousands of years and then subsequently abandoned after the Green Revolution. Agronomists are now scrambling to recover at least some of these varieties as more parts of the world are experiencing drier conditions due to global climate change.

What is an Heirloom?

So what exactly is an Heirloom? It is a term that refers to any domesticated species or species strain, subspecies, or variety that is genetically unique, and will consistently breed true.  If you breed Heirloom species A with Heirloom Species A, all of the offspring will be nearly identical to the parents. The word Heirloom is used because so many of these varieties have been handed down over several generations of farmers. Heritage, folk varieties, open-pollinated, and land-races are other terms that are used synonymously with “Heirloom”. 

Hybrid varieties will never breed true and should never be labeled as Heirlooms no matter their age even though some sellers may do this. Genetically modified organisms (GMO) contain the genes of more than one sometimes taxonomically unrelated species. They are created in a laboratory, and even though they may breed true are not considered to be heirlooms because they never would have occurred in nature.