The vegetable seed business, like many others, is increasingly controlled by large, multinational corporations. These companies produce large quantities of a few varieties of seeds, leaving many other vegetable varieties to fall by the wayside. Because of concern about the loss of so many varieties, a number of organizations have sprung up, such as Seed Savers Exchange in Iowa and the Scatterseed Project here in Maine. These are grassroots organizations, devoted to preserving varieties that would otherwise be lost. This is a story of how a local tomato variety has been not only preserved, but is now available commercially!
Several years ago, Brian's aunt and uncle had a market garden here in Turner. They saved seeds from some beefsteak tomatoes they were especially fond of, each year keeping seed from the largest fruit. These were not pretty tomatoes - they were so big they were flattened out like saucers and they tended to crack. But they were BIG, very productive and very good tasting. Sometime in the late 1980's or early 1990's, Aunt Laurette gave us a couple of these tomatoes that were, well, past their prime and told us to keep the seeds from them. At the time, we were growing a lot of heirloom tomatoes in our garden and were swapping seeds with gardeners in other parts of the country. One of those folks was a member of Seed Savers Exchange and he offered these tomatoes (we were calling them Chapman's Beefsteak by then) to other gardeners. They proved quite popular and a couple of years ago we were able to tell Aunt Laurette that several people were growing and preserving her seeds. (Uncle Arthur had, unfortunately, passed away.)
Despite all that, we were surprised - shocked even - when our catalog came from Tomato Growers Supply in 2007 and low and behold, there on the back cover no less, was Chapman's Beefsteak!! Here's what the catalog had to say:
Chapman #5436 (30 seeds)
NEW FOR 2007. Beautiful, deep red fruit is quite large, weighing from 1 to 2 lbs. with dense, meaty flesh and extraordinary flavor. Instead of being a shy bearer like some large beefsteaks, the plants of Chapman are prolific, yielding plenty of these huge tomatoes. This wonderful heirloom variety will soon become a favorite among tomato gardeners. Indeterminate. 80 days.
Were we excited? You bet! Was Aunt Laurette excited? You bet! Here, through the efforts of "just folks", is a fine tomato variety, improved, preserved and now available to gardeners everywhere! TGS is considered to have one of the finest tomato seed selections available in the US - very reputable folks who really know their tomatoes and do a fine job with peppers, too. We carried them in 2007 and will have plan to have them again in 2008!