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Heirloom tomatoes bring business to Mississippi greenhouse grower

The folks at Native Son Farm are up to their elbows in heirloom tomatoes. One day last week, they picked 40 crates, each weighing about 25 pounds. “Right now, we’re in peak heirloom production,” said Antonia “Toni” Hankins, the farm’s greenhouse production/sales manager. “Heirlooms are the world’s brightest, boldest, and most aromatic produce, known for their rich flavor, awkward shapes, and vivid colors.”

When Native Son Farm first opened in 2010, the only tomatoes it grew and sold were heirlooms, said owner Will Reed. “They came from the beginning,” Reed said. “We started out doing one called Mortgage Lifter. One cool thing about heirlooms is their names, like Mr. Stripey, Pineapple, Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, and Cherokee Carbon, Damsel and Martha Washington.”

To be considered a true heirloom tomato, the original plant has to have given birth to a generation of seeds, Hankins said. It has to be traceable back to 1951. “The typical heirlooms today have seeds that are 100 years old,” she said.

“Not all heirlooms are good,” Reed said. “The ones we grow today are here because they’ve stood the test of time. They haven’t been bred for commercial production. The only reason they exist is that people have been saving the seeds. The seeds are what make an heirloom tomato an heirloom tomato. They’re passed down from season to season.”

Native Son has between 8,000 and 9,000 tomato plants. They order fresh heirloom seeds every year from companies that carry them.
“Heirloom tomato seeds are inexpensive,” he said. “You can eat an heirloom tomato and save some of the seeds and perpetuate it yourself.”

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