Tomatoes on the Rocks!

Sudbury Tomato Landrace Initiative

Did you know that most of the seeds sold in Canada are not actually grown in Canada? Did you know that getting seeds that are adapted to local conditions is actually possible? For thousands of years, gardeners and farmers saved seeds. Seeds were traded and shared amongst neighbours. Almost everyone had knowledge of growing food and saving seeds. When we consider the most healthful, organic produce, we must consider the source: precious seeds.

I am a pharmacist, gardener, farmer and foodie. For more than twenty years, I have been collecting and growing as many medicinal and edible plants, that can thrive in Sudbury, as I can find.  I have spent a lot of time studying the principles of permaculture through books, videos and personal experimentation.  Sepp Holzer, an Austrian farmer, believed that the quality produce grown on his high altitude farm, was created from saving the best seeds grown in the worst conditions, and this is what I have been doing.  Last summer, my husband Michael, built several south facing terraced gardens at our farm, lined with large boulders, and I planted the tomatoes adjacent to these “heat traps”. As the first tomatoes ripened, I tasted them.  If they were delicious, or had a beautiful shape or colour, I found a paper towel and I squeezed the seeds onto it.  Then, I used a pen or a sharpie to record the year and a description.  Although I have many seeds that are named heirloom varieties, by the time I have started them indoors and transplanted them, they are no longer labelled.  It is not my intention to disrespect the seed savers and breeders who saved and named those seeds, but by the time I actually get to the garden, I don’t want to take notes, or be organized.   In the garden, I am a free spirit:  an artist,  observer, and nurturer.  I only water my plants the week or so of transplant and then I add a thick layer of mulch.  After that, they are on their own.  These seeds are pretty tough.  They are used to clay soil and the natural rain cycle of the region.  

Many of the seeds in this collection have been grown, collected and regrown, for many years in a row.   I was recently struck with the realization that my ever-expanding seed collection is much too large to be planted out in my own garden. These seeds need to be grown out, to express themselves, to adapt, to feed many, many others! In preparation for Seedy Sunday, I have taken my entire farm grown, tomato seed collection to the Seedy Sunday volunteers and I am giving them freely to anyone in the community who wants some. (Until they run out!)

Starting Feb 22, I invite you to take some of these seeds, in the hopes that you will attempt to save seeds for yourself and our community next year.  Everyone deserves to have access to good, wholesome, nourishing food.  Having a piece of land is not actually required, to grow tomatoes for you and your family.  Tomatoes can easily be grown in a pot, or in a flower bed, if a vegetable patch is not available.  Community gardens are a great place to learn and we have almost forty community gardens in the region. Here are some great resources for more information about this network. https://sudburycommunitygardens.ca/ and https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=sudbury%20community%20garden%20network. New members are always welcome!

There is no scientific, “rulesy” method to the process I invite you to partake in.  We will let natural, wild, “survival of the fittest”, breeding occur.  Tomatoes will not cross-pollinate or hybridize much on their own, but I think these should all be planted close together to maximize the opportunity.  We need some wildness to balance the monocrops of the global industrial food system. Our climate is changing.  Seeds that grow in the same area, year after year, will become well suited to the conditions.

You can save the seeds of the tomatoes you think taste the best, and that might have other qualities, like shape or colour.  The ones that don’t look nice, split, or don’t taste amazing, just eat those.   The ones that you think are special, save the seeds.  Saving seeds is fun and easy! If you have never saved a seed, this is totally within your reach! Save some for your own garden, and then please bring some back to Seasons Pharmacy and Culinaria, and we will distribute them, for free, again next year.  In five years, we will have more seeds of the most amazing fruit, suited to Sudbury, than you could ever imagine!

If you are interested in participating in the Tomatoes on the Rocks, Sudbury Tomato Landrace Initiative, please contact any of the staff at Seasons Pharmacy and Culinaria, 815 Lorne St. by calling 705-222-2200, or email service@seasonspharmacy.com.  An envelope of about 10 seeds will be available, for free, on a first come, first serve basis.  They should be started indoors in early April, and transplanted around the end of May, when we are pretty sure that frost is no longer a threat.  If you need a large plastic pot, we will have some of those for free as well.  Please join us in building a stronger, more sustainable, more accessible, more reliable and most importantly, a more delicious local food culture!

Rachelle Rocha