We love heirlooms for three reasons: better taste, superior nutrition, and environmental sustainability!
But what exactly IS an heirloom?
To be heirloom, seeds must be two things: old and open-pollinated.
There’s no strict cutoff, but most heirlooms have been around for at least 100 years.
Okay, and what the heck is open-pollinated?
Open pollination is just pollination by insects, birds, wind, or other natural causes. The pollen between flowers randomly gets swapped around, fertilizing the plant so it can grow fruit.
I thought that’s how all pollination works?
Well, yeah, sort of. If you buy some popcorn seeds—heirloom, hybrid, whatever—and plant them in your garden, they’ll get pollinated by the wind and grow popcorn. When we’re talking about open pollination, we’re referring to how your seeds’ parents were created.
My seeds have parents?
Yep, all living things have parents, including plants! Say you want to save some seeds from that popcorn you grew and plant it again next year. Well, you can only do that if you’re growing an open-pollinated variety. Open-pollinated seeds “breed true,” aka, you can save and plant the seeds year after year – for 100 years, even – and harvest the same delicious popcorn every time.
Hybrids are a little different. Seed companies create new varieties all the time. Maybe they prefer the flavor of Popcorn A, but Popcorn B has higher yields. They’ll manually pollinate Popcorn A with pollen from Popcorn B to create a new hybrid variety, Popcorn C. They’ll sell you the seeds from that new hybrid variety so you can grow Popcorn C yourself. But if you try to save the seeds from Popcorn C and plant them next year, you’ll have a very disappointing crop with low yields and sub-par popcorn. Hybrids are genetically unstable, so you’ve got to go back to the seed company and buy new hybrid seeds every season.
Got it. And that’s a big deal because…?
Open pollination is important because it keeps our crops genetically diverse. Over many generations, open-pollinated seeds adapt to local climates and growing conditions, strengthening the resiliency of the genetic line. Growing open-pollinated plants also keeps us from losing unique varieties – like our mini heirloom popcorn! – at a time when our agricultural biodiversity is shrinking.
Love that. Do heirlooms taste better, too?
Yes! Heirloom corn is what makes our snacks crunchier and more flavorful! Our heirloom corn also has more fiber and antioxidants than commercially grown hybrids.
Many of the commercially grown crops today are bred for very specific traits like high yields and resistance to pests. (It’s why most of the tomatoes in your supermarket are all the exact same shape, size, and color.) Unfortunately, breeders often overlook other important traits like flavor and nutrition. By using heirlooms, we are growing higher quality corn to make higher quality snacks!
I had no idea heirlooms were so special!
Yes, heirlooms are pretty amazing! We believe that heirloom is the way to a more sustainable and delicious future, and we are proud to be supporting family farmers who grow heirloom corn.