[image description: An old watercolor botanical illustration of a grumpy green plant creature in a metal pot. Text reads “Auld Veg, small god of heirloom plants, 239”]
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Ever had a tomato? No, a real tomato, one that tastes like something, like summer and lysine, like the sun itself trapped inside a papyrus skin, ready to run down your chin in a river of nurturing goodness? Not everyone likes tomatoes, that’s true. Maybe you’ve had the good stuff and found that it’s still not for you, and that’s okay, no one’s here to judge. But have you ever had a tomato?
If you’re thinking of grocery store shelves and bright, sterile lighting when I ask you that question, the answer’s no, by the way. You’ve never had a tomato, not in any way that counts. See, when trucking fruits and veggies around to make sure people could have them all throughout the year became commonplace, clever people started breeding that same produce for what they called “shelf stability.” They wanted it to last longer. An admirable goal!
They also wanted it to look the same, every carrot like every other, every stalk of celery interchangeable. They wanted so much. The gods of progress demanded a sacrifice, and they made it without hesitation.
But what they sacrificed was flavor.
Heirloom plants have survived because they had value their cultured cousins can’t deny. They taste of summer and soil, of all good things distilled down to the bite of chemical sweetness on the tongue, the feeling of crunching between the teeth. They’re hardy, too, and often ugly; they thrive where the show ponies of the produce world fall and fail.
Auld has been watching over them all this time, and over their keepers, the strange man at the farmer’s market with his two hundred varieties of apple, the woman who raves about the subtle differences in breeds of acorn squash. The people who care passionately about things many of us don’t notice at all. They’re his, as much as the tomatoes are.
But at the end of the season, he cares more about the tomatoes, as well he should. They’re history preserved, and as the climate changes, as the world reorients itself, they become the future, too.