Project Grow has your heirloom and 'Ark of Taste' tomato and pepper plants on May 11
Kim Bayer | AnnArbor.com Contributor
Olga's Yellow Round Chicken, Nebraska Wedding, Cosmonaut Volkov, and Snow White are not titles of fairy tales — they're the names of heirloom tomatoes that Project Grow Community Gardens will be selling at their annual plant sale on Saturday, May 11 from 8 a.m.-2 p.m. in front of the Peoples Food Coop. Project Grow will have plants including 61 varieties of heirloom tomatoes, nine sweet peppers, 10 hot peppers and five kinds of basil, all sturdy, organically grown and ready to go in the ground.
Longtime board member and heirloom expert Marcella Trautmann says that a dozen years ago, Project Grow sold perennials and flowers for their annual fundraiser when a shift occurred. She observes, "It made more sense to concentrate on vegetables rather than flowers, and heirlooms instead of modern hybrids." She notes, "Heirlooms were grown before the advent of commercial fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, under what are now called 'organic' conditions. Project Grow is a strong advocate of organic gardening, so growing heirlooms makes sense."
Trautmann says heirlooms are a Project Grow priority because they are genetically stable (open pollinated), economical (because their seeds can be saved) and have been "grown and handed down over many generations because they are tasty, productive, and suited for the geographical area in which they were grown."
Among Project Grow's heirloom tomatoes and peppers are many that are so celebrated for their superior taste and history in a particular region that they have been included on the Slow Food Ark of Taste. Some examples include tomatoes like (my favorite) Aunt Ruby's German Green, Sheboyan, and Cherokee Purple, along with Chiltepin, Fish, and Jimmy Nardello peppers.
To be listed on the U.S. Ark of Taste, these heirloom foods must be: 1) outstanding in terms of taste — as defined in the context of local traditions and uses; 2) at risk biologically or as culinary traditions; 3) sustainably produced; 4) culturally or historically linked to a specific region, locality, ethnicity or traditional production practice; and 5) produced in limited quantities, by farms or by small-scale processing companies.
Trautmann says, "On looking over the list of tomatoes and peppers which are part of the Ark of Taste, we note that we eventually will be offering for sale seeds from nine of the 16 tomatoes (Amish Paste, Aunt Ruby's German Green, Cherokee Purple, German Pink, Orange Oxheart, Mortgage Lifter, Red Fig, Sudduth's Brandywine, and Valencia)." For the plant saleÂ this May, she says, "We will be selling seedlings of four tomatoes (Aunt Ruby's German Green, Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter, and Sudduth's Brandywine), as well as three of the 10 peppers (Chiltepin, Fish, and Jimmy Nardello's Italian Frying Sweet Peppers)."
Best known for "facilitating organic community garden sites throughout Ann Arbor," the 41 year old Project Grow has 19 locations around Ann Arbor, from the Airport to Clague Elementary to County Farm Park, where community members can grow their own food. They say: "All of our sites use sustainable practices, enriching the land through natural soil improvement, organic growing methods, and careful stewardship. Everyone is welcome to apply for a plot."
In addition, "Project Grow co-sponsors the Organic Gardening Certification Program at Washtenaw Community College," and offers classes on beekeeping, vermiculture, seed saving and other gardening skills.
If you can't make it to the plant sale, you're still not out of luck. Since 2004 Project Grow has begun saving, packaging and selling more than 40 of their most popular heirloom tomato variety seeds at the People's Food Cooperative on Fourth Ave. Since 2011 they have been available online as well.
Finally, even if you don't grow your own you can still taste more than 50 varieties of Project Grow's heirloom tomatoes at the incredibly popular "Project Grow Tomato Tasting," an annual highlight of the HomeGrown Festival, this year on Saturday, Sept. 7 from 6-10 p.m.
Marcella Trautmann, one of many passionate volunteers contributing to our region's community food security, says that what she particularly loves about growing heirlooms is "the feeling of connection that growing something that was saved by others, often in faraway countries, gives me. The fact that they are delicious and productive just adds to the excitement and pleasure of growing heirlooms."
Project Grow Heirloom Plant Sale
When: May 11, 8 a.m. - 2 p.m.
Where: The People's Food Coop
Kim Bayer is a freelance writer and culinary researcher. Email her at kimbayer at gmail dot com.