THE HISTORY & IMPORTANCE OF SUMMER TOMATOES, SOUTH JERSEY STYLE, HEIRLOOM ACTIVIST JEFF QUATTRONE
It’s the height of warm season crops in our gardens here in the Northern Hemisphere, and this week Cultivating Place is joined by Jeff Quattrone – graphic artist, gardener, and heirloom vegetable and seed advocate based in Salem County, New Jersey. Jeff is particularly dedicated to the preservation and sharing forward of the histories and genetics of historic, culturally, and economically important Jersey Tomatoes – born and bred right there in his region for more than a century.
All photos courtesy of Jeff Quattrone, all rights reserved.
for more gallery images, please scroll to bottom of pos
IN 2014 Jeff founded the Library Seed Bank, which grew into a Southern New Jersey seed library network. Having work with Seed Savers Exchange and served as a Slow Food Ark of Taste’s regional representative and for Slow Food International’s Seed Working Group, in 2021, Jeff was the keynote speaker for the Seed Library Summit as well as an organizer of Slow Food’s Seed Summit.
Through his heirloom seed and food activism, particularly his researching, re-growing, and sharing forward historic tomatoes of cultural, economic, and environmental importance in New Jersery, Jeff’s work is most broadly a deep commitment to seed and food sovereignty for all.
As Jeff writes about his new book and media project Jersey Tomatoes Bred for Profit | Revived for Community Organizing "The book focuses on the Jersey tomato being the intersection of Jersey tomato seed breeding, local food and seed history, and Jersey culture."
"Research from this book was included in a viral feature I wrote for Modern Farmer about Campbell’s tomato breeding program. While a number of publications reprinted it, the most notable reprint was by The Smithsonian Magazine. Rutger’s University reprinted it into their archives, and Michael Pollan tweeted the article."
"While researching the book, I came across a few examples of seed and canning companies being under one roof. You process the fruit or vegetable for seeds, and then can the pulp to sell. This is likely a common thing when seed and food sovereignty was everyday life and not actions needed to protect rights."
"After researching the depth of the ketchup and canning industry here, and seeing how there were a lot of Jersey bred tomatoes that were functionally extinct despite having remarkable characteristics bred into them, I thought it was time to flip the intent from a profit driven one, to a community organizing one. These tomatoes built companies, including Campbell’s, yet since the profit motive was gone without the canning and ketchup industries here, there tomatoes were forgotten about. "
"I changed the dynamics of free and open public access to seeds with my LSB project, so now it’s time to change the dynamics of what happened to these seeds by showcasing them as a tool for seed and food sovereignty. They were bred for that at a time when those actions weren’t needed."
"Now those actions are needed, and this book project includes a Call to Action using the Garden State tomato, a Campbell’s Soup bred variety, that I revived in 2021 with community partners, Stockton University, Galloway, NJ, and the Center for Environmental Transformation, Camden, NJ. The tomatoes were donated to the East End Food Institute in Southampton, NY where they made a limited edition of their tomato jam that they sell to support their programing. "
Jeff set out in 2021 to demonstrate that you "can take a vegetable from functionally extinct to a shelf stable product in a year. I changed the dynamics of seed access in South Jersey, and now it’s time to create the space for the last chapter of my book, and the next chapter in the history of the Jersey tomato." Jeff has a GoFundMe page set up for this project. Please visit it for more details.
FOLLOW Jeff online at: libraryseedbank.info/; you can follow him on Instagram at: @libraryseedbank
IF YOU LIKE THIS PROGAM,
you might also enjoy these Best of CP programs in our archive:
JOIN US again next week, when to kick off August we revisit a BEST OF episode in conversation with David Godshall of Terremoto Landscape Architecture Design in Southern California. Working for the benefit of land, people, climate and culture in their designs, Terremoto and David are featured in Under Western Skies, by me and photographer Caitlin Atkinson, based on the belief that our cultivated garden spaces can be solutions and contributing to our shared world, rather than depleting it. AS David points out in our conversation of last summer: "Building a garden is building a civilization in miniature." What kind of civilization do you want to steward for your grandchildren and great grandchildren, their birds, trees, flowers and planetmates?
Thinking out loud this week:
Hey so – I love how this week’s program riffs off of and builds on the conversation we had with K Greene of Hudson Valley Seed a few weeks back.
It reminds me how one garden connected even distantly to the work of another gardener can make for really culturally scaled change and contribution. My garden connected to yours, and to yours – and so on. A great symbiotic positive feedback loop growing the world we want to live in – we want to see nourish and grow all of our children and grandchildren and lands and planetmates.
If you all are not familiar with Slow Foods USA and Slow Foods International and their Ark of Taste, I think you will find it really compelling.
The Ark is described as that conceptual and physical space in our gardens and fields “WHERE HERITAGE MEETS BIODIVERSITY. The Ark of Taste is a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction. By identifying and championing these foods, we keep them in production and on our plates. Agricultural biodiversity and small–scale, family-based food production systems are in danger throughout the world due to industrialization, genetic erosion, changing consumption patterns, climate change, the abandonment of rural areas, migration, and conflict."
"The Ark of Taste invites everybody to take action: In some cases, products need to be rediscovered and put back on the table, and producers need to be supported and to have their stories told; in others, such as the case of endangered wild species, it might be better to eat less or none of them in order to preserve them and favor their reproduction.”
This is the ethos Jeff is putting to work in his Jersey Tomato research and reintroduction.
It makes me wonder what foods or ingredients of our own families or regions foods we might want to keep a caring eye on?
Happy High summer gardeners. Keep growing the world better.
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