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About the Heirloom Plant Sale

All profits from the Heirloom Plant Sale are used to directly benefit educational opportunities at UW-Green Bay. The funds raised are used to support student opportunities, including seminars by guest scientists, student travel to scientific meetings, and original student research projects. Seminars funded by the sale present a diversity of ideas and topics. Over the last 20 years, the sale has raised more than $125,000, funded the research of more than 100 UW-Green Bay undergraduates and graduate students, sponsored the Natural and Applied Sciences weekly seminar series, and brought many scientists to Green Bay as speakers. In 2017, the Plant Sale was recognized by a University Founder’s Award for Collaborative Achievement.

What is an Heirloom Plant?

An heirloom plant refers to any domesticated species, 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 generations of farmers or gardeners. Heritage, folk varieties, open-pollinated, and land-races are other terms used synonymously with “heirloom”. Hybrid varieties will never breed true and should never be labeled as heirlooms no matter their age. 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.

About Heirlooms

Vegetables have been cultivated for thousands of years. As people traded seeds and moved across the world they interbred different plant varieties in order to improve or develop specific flavors, colors, yields and survival adaptations. Unfortunately, mass producers of vegetables decided to improve transportability and shelf life in vegetables at the expense of flavor and quality. Mass production of commercial hybrids led to decreasing diversity of vegetable varieties, as farmers planted large monocultures of tomatoes and other crops. At the same time the traditional family vegetable plot has mostly disappeared. Some varieties have already gone extinct because no one was left to cultivate these wonderful vegetables. Fortunately, 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, and other local communities have long collected and preserved vegetable seeds; now many others are also collecting and trading seeds of heirloom vegetables. Organizations like The Seed Savers Exchange and the Native Seeds Search have been instrumental in preserving vegetable biodiversity by collecting, growing, and trading heirloom seeds. Heirloom vegetables are gaining in popularity across the country, because they speak to our hearts as well as our palates. These plants were grown by our great-grandparents. Today, we can buy or trade seeds of plants from cultures around the world. The annual UW-Green Bay Heirloom Plant 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.

History of the Plant Sale

The Heirloom plant sale was started by former Natural and Applied Science (NAS) faculty member and Seed Savers Exchange member Dr. Jeffrey Nekola in 1997. After Dr. Nekola left the university in 2006, the sale continued under the direction of Cofrin Center for Biodiversity staff member and NAS instructor Dr. Vicki Medland, in collaboration with community member Dorothy Summers and a crew of dedicated faculty, staff, students, and community volunteers. Recently, Dr. Medland has handed off operations to a committee consisting of NAS faculty members, with continued help of Dorothy and guidance by Vicki. As supporters of this annual sale, you are supporting UWGB students and helping to perpetuate the tradition of heirloom vegetable gardening and contributing to the long term preservation of these unique plants.