Did I Provide a Heirloom Solution to a Vanishing Variety of Tomato?

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It’s a possibility, and one that is part of a ongoing story. Time will tell, as it does with all stories ever told or written.

Bell2-1Back in February or March some tomato seeds came my way through my friend Kathleen, who got them from friend of hers, an elderly gentleman named Sam. Not much was known about the origin of the seeds, and I asked Kathleen to see if she could talk to Sam and get some information. All I had to go on was the seeds were from Italy, and Sam referred to them as Bell tomatoes. The way Kathleen described them, they sounded like plums, and rather large ones at that.

I planted the seeds. The plants grew without abandon. I mistakenly cut the early growth on one, and within two days, a new shoot shut up like a rocket. It was a total HUH! experience. The plants continued their rapid growth, and now are bushel-basket wide, 4 ft. high bushes that need little support. They are the largest plum tomatoes I have seen, and still growing.

Kathleen said she drove by Sam’s house in the interim and it seemed like it was closed up. Today I heard from Kathleen. She spoke to Sam. That conversation filled in a lot details.

It turns out that Sam got these seeds from an acquaintance 40 years ago. He doesn’t remember the name of who he got them from, but he knows the seeds are from Italy. Sam’s 90, and was gardening up until 4 years ago. He grew these tomatoes for 36 years.

Forty years have passed since these seeds were sourced. Forty years, that’s two generations. If you read about the history of the San Marzano tomato, you will see that some significant changes occured with the tomato industry in Italy during the 1970s. Those changes pushed the San Marzano close to extinction. Could the same circumstances that happened to San Marzano apply here? According to Sam, these seeds were sourced from Italy and came into his possession in 1971. How many other people in that time gave up growing them? While a remote possibility, it is something to consider.

Let’s say this is a know variety of tomato, which I believe it is. It was a precious part of Sam’s life for 40 years. That’s significant. Stop. Take a moment. Think about anything that has been in your life for that many years, or relatively speaking, in your life proportionally if your not over 40. It would seem like family is a constant that has been there, perhaps a house, a friendship, or some other heirloom that has been handed down in your family. How many people can say that a variety of vegetable or flower has been there for that significant lenght of time? I’m 51, and that tomato would have to have been in my life since I was 11. It will now be in my life until I leave this earth.

Sam’s daughter doesn’t garden, but I do, and these seeds found their way to me. And now this story is being told to you. As I have written in previous posts, there is magic in the process. And just like the stories that we’ve read as kids, plot twists happen. Plan as you will, some things come at you when you open yourself up to possibilities. You will never see them coming. Just read Greek mythology. This is classic example of possibilities, and one that is so ripe and rich with them that ultimately it could be that a variety of tomatoes could have been saved.

This story has all the classic components of seed collecting stories. A majority of them have a single person or a family who loved a variety so much that they took it with them when they left their home for another country, Jimmy Nardello’s Sweet Italian Frying Peppers, which I’m growing, Or, families that grew the variety for generations, and passed them along as heirlooms such as Grandfather Ashlocks, (growing them too), until they found their way into the hands of someone like me who may have not been part of a blood lineage, however is part of the larger lineage of keeping plants from disappearing forever.

Paper_towelHere’s the paper towel with the seeds. The instructions that I got were to plant the paper towel. Cryptic enough to lend intrigue and mystery to the story that was unfolding.

Cue timing. The details emerge during the my campaign to raise money through kickstarter.com to self-publish a book called Future Tomatoes. It’s a book of photography of tomatoes buds, with a short blurb about the variety of tomato represented in the photograph. These tomatoes will be included in this book and so will a short summary of this story. It illustrates why what I’m doing in so important.

One does not go out to find a story like this. One starts a process, and stays open to the conspiracy of the graces and the fates to toss them a bone like this to test their awareness and commitment to what they are doing.

I see this as a major narrative being thrown my way at the start of what I’m doing, I have to believe that I’m onto something that is larger then myself. I know I can tell this story. I need some help though, and your pledge through kickstarter.com you will be part of the third component of the conspiracy triptych started by the graces and the fates. The book will go a long to help me continue to do what I am doing.

And Sam will get the first harvest of tomatoes. And I can assure you that as long as I grow them, and Sam is here, he will taste the flavor of his lifetime. If by chance this is a variety of tomato that I now have the last seeds of, they will be known as Tullytown Sams to honor the man who grew them for so many years, in the town that he grew them. Cheers!

2 Comments

  1. Oh Jeff, It is beautiful, when I read the last sentance I cried like a baby! Sam is one of the nicest, most generous men I have met in my lifetime. He was an owner of a Florist Supply Shop on Logan Ave in Trenton until I helped him sell it, before that I was one of his customers. He always remembered me, always fair.The stories he told were priceless. It is an honor to be part of this process. Thank you on behalf of Sam and Rose.

  2. Thanks Kathleen, Im honored to have been part of this. Its a true
    reflection of what I want trying to do.

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